Leaders don't always start small. But volunteering on a small scale can make a big impact. Just ask George Huntley, CPA, the 2009 chair of the board of the American Diabetes Association. He first joined the Association 23 years ago, after attending a local meeting with his sister to learn more about their type 1 diabetes. Soon Huntley became treasurer of ADA’s former Maryland affiliate. Over the years, he has participated in and led many fund-raisers and even ran two marathons for diabetes. In 2007, he advocated for the passage of Safe at School legislation in Indiana, protecting kids with diabetes in the classroom.
April 19 through 25 is National Volunteer Appreciation Week, and ADA will recognize its volunteers. Huntley calls volunteers "the lifeblood of the ADA. They make a huge difference." Though the number of people with diabetes is growing, the rate of undiagnosed diabetes has been cut from 50 to 25 percent over the past two decades, thanks in part to ADA volunteers spreading awareness. "This disease impacts people across all economic, social, and ethnic spectrums," Huntley says. "There's room at the table for everybody who has the interest and passion to fight this disease."
The eight volunteers profiled on the pages that follow come from various professional and personal backgrounds. Some have known diabetes since childhood and some are still learning. Each has made individual strides in furthering ADA's mission of searching for a cure and of improving the lives of all people affected by diabetes.
Making Campers Happy
Rick Bridges, 54, Marion, Va.
Director, ADA Diabetes Camp Carolina Trails; chair, National Youth Strategies Committee
Bridges and diabetes: He wasn't close to anyone who had diabetes before he started running the camp; his background was in teaching children with special needs.
Favorite part of the job: Watching kids who grew up at his camp stay on and become camp counselors.
How he makes a difference: "Kids come to us and say, 'I've never had another friend with diabetes. I always felt abnormal, and now I feel normal.' That's the most tremendous thing I see happen ... that support system being built."
Passing the Baton
Samuel Dagogo-Jack, MD, MBBS, MSc, FRCP, 54, Memphis, Tenn.
ADA mentor-based postdoctoral fellow; associate editor of Diabetes Care; member, Community Leadership Board, Memphis, Tenn.
Dagogo-Jack and diabetes: After medical school in Nigeria and postgraduate work in England, he moved to the United States to work for Philip Cryer, MD, under an ADA research grant. He's now a professor and program director at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
How he gives back: In addition to reviewing research papers for academic journals, he also plays a role in fund-raising and education efforts. In tribute to how he got started, he now mentors other young scientists. As he describes it, he's "passing on the baton."
How he brings it home: Dagogo-Jack's children participated in ADA events growing up and still volunteer today. "They've got the philanthropy spirit," he says.
Building a Bigger Tent
Wilfred Y. Fujimoto, MD, 68, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Member, Asian and Pacific American Diabetes Action Council; member, national Board Development Committee; former president, Hawaii Leadership Council; former member, national Board of Directors; former chair, national Professional Education Committee
Fujimoto and diabetes: He attended his first ADA Scientific Sessions in 1970. His research was the first to offer extensive insight into how diabetes affects Asian American communities.
One of his favorite successes: Decades ago, the Diabetes Risk Test asked test-takers about their ethnic background, factoring in increased risk for African Americans and Latinos. As a result of Fujimoto's professional and volunteer work, risk assessments now also account for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Future goals: Fujimoto has retired, but he still participates in research studies, volunteers locally and nationally, and plans to stay active in these roles.
Putting Diabetes on the Air
Kenna Mitchell, 36, Tulsa, Okla.
Communications chair, eastern Oklahoma
Mitchell and diabetes: Mitchell was 20 when she was diagnosed with type 1. She began her career as a television producer and won a regional Emmy for her work. After leaving TV for a communications job, she began volunteering more of her free time.
Some recent projects: Mitchell coordinated cooking demos of diabetes-friendly desserts for local television stations near Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine's Day, and arranged for a registered dietitian's local TV appearance showing viewers how to make healthy meals for four for under $10.
How she raises awareness: "It's not just talking about diabetes when you have an event. It's a year-round thing you can do."
Making the Case
Greg Paul, JD, 38, Pittsburgh
Chair, Advocacy Committee; former chair, Community Leadership Board, Pittsburgh
Paul and diabetes: Paul was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 28, while attending law school. He now practices employment and disability law, and works with the ADA to
educate other lawyers about advocating for people with diabetes.
First ADA work: In 2004, Paul called his local ADA office in Pittsburgh and learned that Diabetes EXPO was coming up in his area. He volunteered to work at the advocacy booth that year and has done so ever since.
What he loves about advocacy work: "I'm always amazed when my clients say, 'It's not about the money—it's about making tomorrow better.' When you're able to make the law better, that's very rewarding."
Partnering With Patients
Virginia Pergallo-Dittko, RN, BC-ADM, MA, CDE, 52, Mineola, N.Y.
Member, national Cardiometabolic Risk Committee; former member, Professional Practice Committee; former editor-in-chief, national Programs Publications Board
Pergallo-Dittko and diabetes: Pergallo-Dittko started out as a patient education coordinator and is now the director of an outpatient diabetes center, where she works as both
an administrator and practicing diabetes nurse specialist.
Why she went into diabetes care: "I was a staff nurse in a hospital, and people were being admitted with diabetes-related problems that could have been prevented if they knew more. That began my passion for diabetes education."
Why she volunteers: "As a nurse, you always say we receive more than we give in our work with patients. I think the same can be said of volunteer work."
Financing the Future
Bruce Sturm, 60, Baltimore
Chair, ADA Leadership Board, Maryland; former corporate recruitment chair for Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes, Baltimore
Sturm and diabetes: Sturm had no personal connection to diabetes when he started volunteering. Today, as a senior vice president at Erickson Retirement Communities,
he manages Medicare coverage for seniors living in Erickson communities across the country, 18 percent of whom have diabetes.
First ADA work: Cochair of the Advocacy Committee in Maryland in 2006.
Favorite memory of Step Out: Watching his 11-month-old granddaughter being pushed in a stroller at her first Step Out last year.
Reaching Out to At-Risk Groups
Adriana Velasco, MSN, MPH, CNS, 41, Los Angeles
National Latino Committee member; local Latino Initiatives volunteer.
Velasco and diabetes: She has faced diabetes in her family and in her work as interim chief nursing officer at a medical center in L.A.
How she gives back: She conducts educational meetings at churches in East L.A., hands out free blood glucose meters to people in need, and volunteers at ADA's Feria de Salud and EXPO.
Personal rewards: Seeing people in her diabetes management classes improve their lives. "They tell me, 'You made a huge difference in my life.' That's really gratifying," she says.