When it came time to plan for its 20th anniversary Hope Gala, the folks at JDRF Capital Chapter knew this year was going to be different. Rather than filling a ballroom with hundreds of DC-area supporters of curing Type 1 diabetes (a chronic, life-threatening condition of the pancreas for which there is no cure), they’d have to go virtual.
“One challenge has been reconfiguring a gala of this magnitude into an online platform that’s engaging and shares the stories of families affected by this disease,” says NoVA resident Michelle Whitaker, who’s co-chairing the soiree along with Liz Legg (who also lives in NoVA), and Mimi Schwartz, Caroline Springer and Susan Traver (all Bethesda locals). But with the help of the local staff and volunteers—along with the chapters that have already hosted their digital celebrations—this gala once again seeks to be a game-changer.
Set for Dec. 5, the online iteration has a more than $1.3 million goal and expects to draw in folks beyond the DMV. “We’re able to reach a much larger and more diverse audience,” says Whitaker. “More people [can] attend… from greater geographic locations.” The event will have silent and live auctions, a Fund-a-Cure (the 100 percent tax-deductible donation benefits the nonprofit’s mission) and cuisine (wine and a catered dinner by Susan Gage delivered to your door).
Particularly poignant will be the honoree spotlight: JDRF is recognizing Emily Spitzer, whose daughter, Rebecca, was diagnosed with T1D at 9 months old. It spurred Spitzer to become involved in the charity. She helped hire JDRF’s first internal scientist, among other impacts.
Another important aspect? The Champions campaign. Chaired by 18-year-old Alexandria resident Olivia Wood, the program brings together teens to raise funds for JDRF. The St. Stephens and St. Agnes School senior, who’s lived with T1D since age 7, is tasked with recruiting more Champions, advocating for awareness and inspiring younger generations.
By the way: The personal goal for this year is $10,000. Wood last year landed $20,650 (her goal was $8,000). The Champions campaign kicks off Oct. 25. Here, she shares why you should give back.
How are you building on last year?
I’m recruiting more students, with more high schools represented across the region and advocating more for JDRF. We’ve increased our goal to $100,000, which directly supports T1D research—with the ultimate goal of finding a cure.
What do you like most about your work?
I’m able to develop relationships with so many different people. Some are my mentors, helping me through this process, and some are fellow peers, advocating about T1D alongside me. I love meeting fellow T1Ds because [I can] relate to and learn from them. I get to use my voice and platform to make a difference in not only my life, but [also those of] thousands of others.
What is your best advice for newly diagnosed kids?
Embrace your diagnosis. Don’t let anyone ever tell you no because you are diabetic. Play your sports; find your passions; and live out your dreams.
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