Karen Woicekowski is the Advocacy Team Chair for JDRF’s Delaware Branch. She is connected to type 1 diabetes (T1D) through her father, who passed away from diabetes complications, and her son, Michael, who was diagnosed twenty years ago at the age of three.
After her son was diagnosed, Karen’s family started fundraising for JDRF in his honor. Karen said she initially did not feel like she could fundraise, but once she began asking friends for support, “Every letter and check I received back felt like a hug and it made me stronger.” From that point on, Karen and her family were very involved in JDRF, walking for many years under the team name, “Michael’s Angels,” in the Dallas, Texas and Wilmington, Delaware Walk to Cure Diabetes.
She became involved with JDRF Advocacy after Michael was chosen to be the Delaware delegate in the 1999 Children’s Congress. Children’s Congress remains her favorite JDRF Advocacy event, and she fondly remembers watching her son interact with their Senator during their meeting. While Karen was speaking with the Senator about T1D, eight-year-old Michael stole the show after he found a quarter in the couch he was sitting on and insisted on returning it to the Senator. “The aide stepped in and kept saying that it was alright for Michael to keep the quarter,” Karen said. “Michael kept saying, ‘No, it was the Senator’s couch so it was the Senator’s money.’ This kept going round and round, with the News Journal taking photos until Michael finally placed the quarter on the table.”
Karen credits the Children’s Congress experience with empowering her son to realize he can help find a cure for T1D. JDRF Advocacy has also affected his career path, because after visiting Members of Congress since he was eight years old, Michael now works in Washington, D.C. Karen said JDRF Advocacy has also empowered her. “I would never have imagined myself advocating to a Congressional Member on the Hill,” Karen said. She said the most challenging part of her position is getting others involved, because people seem to fear advocacy. “We are volunteers and not professional lobbyists – but that is a good thing,” Karen said. “It is personal to us to find the cure and therefore we advocate with passion.”
Her proudest moment with JDRF Advocacy was working with her Representative on stem cell research legislation. She said, “His efforts in the face of opposition are one of the reasons we are where we are with research.”
To describe her JDRF Advocacy experience in 6 words: We are closer to the cure.