Advocacy Blog

Interning in the JDRF Advocacy Office – Emily’s Story

Emily and her sister at a Diabetes Hands Foundation photo shoot

Emily and her sister at a Diabetes Hands Foundation photo shoot

Hi there! I’m Emily Swide, a San Francisco Bay Area native and a senior in the Undergraduate Legal Studies department of UC Berkeley (Go Bears!). I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) at age nine, and will be celebrating my 13th dia-birthday this coming August. My older sister Stephanie is also a T1D veteran, having been diagnosed two years after I was.

Overcoming the struggles of diabetes (insurance woes especially) is no easy task. However, having support has been a total game changer in helping me persevere through the tough times. I can honestly attribute my foundation of support to continuous involvement and service within the T1D community, all of which began with a JDRF Promise to Remember Me meeting. At that meeting with now former Rep. George Miller of California when I was 15, I advocated on behalf of JDRF along with other children with T1D. I vividly remember leaving his office with a feeling of empowerment…fueled by living with diabetes and the shared experience of uniting with others similarly affected.

JDRF Promise to Remember Me meeting with Rep. George Miller, circa  2008

JDRF Promise to Remember Me meeting with Rep. George Miller, circa 2008

It was this spark that lit a fire. Since this meeting seven years ago, I have worked fervently to foster the contagion of that feeling in an effort to spread it far and wide throughout the T1D community. In doing so, I found myself sleeping under the stars for the past 3 summers, working as a staffer at the Diabetes Youth Families’ Bearskin Meadow Camp. I relished in promoting their mission to positively impact the lives of those affected by T1D. In my first summer, something truly powerful happened. During the week of our bilingual family camp, I found myself lost without a Spanish paddle; however, I was in good hands as fellow bilingual staffers and children acted as impromptu translators. When all else failed, I banked on using the universal language of a smile to communicate my gratitude for these families that made the trip up the mountain with the purpose of better supporting their loved one with diabetes. Nevertheless, by the end of the week little was left to be said as families enveloped us all with warm hugs leaving me with a feeling of solidarity that couldn’t be put into words. It was at this moment that I realized I had breached the language barrier that divided us, further proof that regardless of the circumstances we are all members of this T1D community and in this together.

Dia-twinning with one of Emily's campers

Dia-twinning with one of Emily’s campers

In addition to my time spent at camp, I’ve spent the past two years working as an Insulliance Mentor within the Endocrinology department of UCSF Benioff-Children’s Hospital Oakland. With the founders relocating this past fall, I jumped at the opportunity to revive and coordinate the program and have since recruited and trained three new mentors. Insulliance mentors work with patients in clinic to ameliorate the psychosocial effects of T1D. We emphasize partnering with T1D and help provide concrete assistance and at-home resources to comprehensively sustain our empowerment efforts both in and out of clinic.

Working at camp and mentoring with Insulliance and has been 5-star sustenance for my diabetes soul. The diverse array of individual stories and experiences I’ve encountered have prompted me to pursue something that is so much larger than diabetes itself: Advocacy! With the help of the organization Students with Diabetes I am humbled to have been selected as a summer intern in the JDRF Advocacy office in Washington, D.C. With JDRF 2015 Children’s Congress coming up in July, there is more than enough work to be done and I couldn’t be more excited to do it. As I finish up my first week in the office, I’ve found myself leaving work each day with that same feeling of empowerment that started it all and I look forward to professionally partnering with JDRF on this journey to not only improve lives, but to cure diabetes.

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