School is back in session, and kids everywhere are sharing what they did over the summer. Most stories involve summer camp, pool or beach time, visiting relatives, and family vacations. Not many kids can say they attended a Senate Hearing and met with lawmakers — but that’s exactly what Carb DM member Avery Reller did. She was one of five kids from the Bay Area who traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for the diabetes community at this year’s JDRF Children’s Congress (JDRFCC).
What is JDRFCC?
The JDRF Children’s Congress (JDRFCC) is an advocacy program that brings children living with type 1 diabetes to meet with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. The program began in 1999, when then-8-year-old Tommy Solo expressed his desire to talk to Congress and make his voice heard. Since then, JDRFCC has been held every other year. 2017 marks the 10th Children’s Congress event. Over 150 child delegates, ages 4 to 17, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, attend (this year, 160 attended). The delegates tell their personal stories to Members of Congress and advocate on behalf of people living with T1D.
Becoming a delegate
Becoming a delegate is a competitive process. Nearly 1,500 children from all 50 states and the District of Columbia apply. Only 160 child delegates (5 from the Bay Area) were chosen for 2017. However, Avery is no stranger to diabetes advocacy. Diagnosed three years ago at age eight, Avery has already participated in several JDRF One Walk events. At one JDRF event, she spoke to a crowd of over 200 people about living with T1D. For Avery, becoming a Children’s Congress delegate was a natural fit.
Once she received that coveted acceptance letter, Avery began her preparations for her trip to Washington, D.C. The first thing she did was make a video. In the video, Avery spoke about life with diabetes and how much a cure would mean to her. Avery also created a scrapbook to give to her congressional representatives, Senator Diane Feinstein, Senator Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. “They sent me materials and guidelines,” said Avery. “In my scrapbook were things like ‘daily life with type one diabetes’, ‘what have you done to raise awareness’, ‘why do you want a cure’, and other things about me and type one“. Avery’s mom Melissa also shared photos of Avery with her Children’s Congress sign and shirt to raise interest and awareness on social media.
A packed schedule
The 2017 JDRF Children’s Congress took place on July 24-26. The three-day event was packed with educational and social activities for the delegates and their families. Upon arriving in Washington, D.C., Avery, accompanied by her parents, joined the rest of the delegates for a welcome dinner. At the dinner, each delegate got up on stage and introduced themselves to the group.
Day two of the Children’s Congress began with a group breakfast and mentor presentation. Several adults living with type 1 diabetes spoke in front of all the delegates and their families. There were actors, scientists, a CNN reporter, a baseball player, a hockey placer and a race car driver. After their talk, mentors answered questions from delegates. Avery was thrilled to be selected to ask her question in front of the group. This was followed by lunch, a mentor meet-and-greet, and a group photo. The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing for the next day’s activities on Capitol Hill.
Day three began bright and early with breakfast and the drive to Capitol Hill. Once there, the delegates had the opportunity to attend a Senate Hearing led by Senator Susan Collins. The hearing included included testimony from select delegates as well as House of Cards actor Paul Sparks. After sharing their personal stories of living with diabetes, they urged the committee to renew a critically important type 1 diabetes (T1D) research program, the Special Diabetes Program, before it expires on September 30.
After the hearing, the delegates split up to talk to their individual Representatives. Avery and fellow Bay Area delegates met with an aide from Senator Diane Feinstein’s office, then with an aide from Senator Kamala Harris’s office. Finally, Avery and Bay Area delegate Carter Mosher met with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo.
A once in a lifetime experience
Both Avery and her mother Melissa agree that her experience at the JDRF Children’s Congress was unforgettable. Avery’s favorite part of the trip? Her meeting with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. Avery says, “She was a very supportive and an inspiring woman. She was supposed to meet with us for 15 minutes but instead we talked for an hour and 15 minutes. That was pretty amazing. It was very thoughtful of her to give up her time to something that really mattered to me and all other type one diabetics“.
Melissa shared her thoughts on seeing Avery and fellow delegates at JDRFCC: “I am truly grateful to JDRF for giving Avery the opportunity to advocate for all of those living with Type 1 Diabetes. Avery made friends and learned so much from everyone there. It was unforgettable watching these children articulate why funding for T1D is so important. If anyone is interested in attending, I wholeheartedly encourage them to apply.”
Avery adds, “I wanted to join the Children’s Congress delegation because I wanted to be a part of the change for Type 1 diabetes. When there is a cure someday, I want to know that I helped as much as I could have and that I did everything I could to fund money for a cure.”
Thank you Avery for showing us what an advocate looks like!