A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend JDRF’s Government Day in Washington D.C. as a panelist for their session on social media. Not only did I get to speak to dozens of committed JDRF volunteers about the power of social media, but I also attended meetings with Members of Congress on the Hill. It was the first time participating in political advocacy since I was a JDRF Children’s Congress delegate and it was awesome!
JDRF recently hosted their annual Government Day and blogger Meghann Tinker offered to write about her experience as a first-timer there representing her homestate of Ohio. Meghann, a fellow 20something, has had type 1 diabetes for almost 25 years, but this was her first time interacting with politicians, which can be very nerve-wracking! Let’s see how things went on the Hill…
A Guest Post by Meghann Tinker
Back in January of this year, I received an invitation to attend the JDRF Government Day event. My best friend (and type 1 diabetic) friend, Jenna, had nominated me to attend the event with her, through our local chapter. Jenna helped me with hotel and flight reservations. I don’t travel often, and I wasn’t sure which direction I needed to go in to make sure that my reservations were secure.
While waiting for the first weekend of March, I’ll have to admit to you—I wasn’t completely understanding the vast importance of the event. I mean, I knew that the “newbies” would be briefed on how to conduct a meeting, and what exactly the Special Diabetes Program (SDP) entailed, but I really had no idea.
Saturday, March 8 had finally arrived.
I had packed my suitcase a few days before, so the morning before our flight departed from Columbus (CMH), I ran to the bank, and Target to pick up a few miscellaneous items (including Level Foods protein bars). My little brother took me to the airport. Our flight was delayed, and I was early, so I checked my suitcase, and picked a spot at the cafe, to sit down and Google.
I learned that the SDP was a program, designed to advance T1D research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The SDP also funds treatment, education, and prevention programs (for specific populations of T2D). Jenna arrived, and checked her suitcase. The next part that we had to endure terrified me: the TSA.
The pat down, was in short, a breeze. I’m not even sure what I was so terrified about. The agents were professional, and asked Jenna and I sincere, curious questions about T1D and our devices.
We stopped at the airport Starbucks and charged our phones, while we waited for our airliner to arrive. The flight was about an hour and ten minutes long. Once we arrived, I was in awe of being in a different city. My eyes were wide with excitement.
The JDRF Government Day dinner began at 6:30 PM, and we arrived at our hotel to check in around 6:45 PM. Jenna’s room was on the 6th floor; Mine was on the 10th. We decided to keep my luggage in her room to save time. Shoes, shirts, and pants were changed, and we raced up to the 16th floor to join the other advocates (roughly 160 people). Our Midwest table was at occupancy, so we chose to sit with some great advocates from the Chicago, IL area (including Lisa Callaway)!
Everyone had to stand up and introduce themselves and explain their connection to type 1 diabetes. Some of the stories were unreal. One woman had 2 out of her 3 children diagnosed with T1D, and the third child had the antibodies and potential to develop T1D. Grandchildren, children, friends, colleagues—T1D is more prevalent than you think. These stories brought tears to my eyes; they were so moving.
By the time the microphone got to me, I was shaking. I stood up, and told my story. My voice ended up breaking. Lisa Callaway rubbed my arm and told me everything would be OK. I appreciated having that comfort from a complete stranger-turned friend.
It was after the dinner, I finally got to meet Karen Bittersweet (Graffeo)! It was surreal to embrace someone you had met and become friends with over the internet!
Sunday morning came fast, and with the time change, we were all yawning over breakfast. We had a presentation on a progress report of the SDP, which was fascinating. I learned so much during this session (you can view my live tweets on Twitter). After lunch, we had small group sessions, which included a social media presentation (a “How To” with advocacy, if you will). The session I learned the most at, was “What To Expect When You’re Expecting…To Meet With Your Legislator!” which was officiated by Niels Knutson. I walked out of there after the 45 minutes feeling better about the meetings. I was terrified of what I didn’t know! Later that evening, we went out to the Hamilton DC downtown for dinner with our district attendees.
Monday morning came fast. I woke up before my alarm, ready to take on the day. Jenna and I took the hotel shuttle to Capital Hill, with about 20 other advocates. Our first meeting was with the staff of Bill Johnson (OH-6). I was so nervous. I had no idea what to expect, being that I was officially in the real-time situation. Our meeting with David Rardin was sweet and brief. I walked out of the office, alongside Jenna, all smiles.
We stopped and had some lunch in the Senate Cafe with our Midwest D-Mom’s, and then headed into our meeting with the staff of Senator Rob Portman. All five of us were so nervous, because we had to convince this member to support the SDP.
After the meeting, Jenna and I had to rush to meet with the staff of Joyce Beatty (OH-3), and then with the staff of Pat Tiberi (OH-12). All of our meetings for the day were complete. We stopped at the National Air & Space Museum, and headed back to the hotel shortly after.
My feet were killing me. I had worn a pair of black ballet flats, that I had wrongly assumed would be fine to be in for the day. Ouch. I’m pretty sure the skin of my pinky toes was torn clean off! Thank goodness for the D-Mom’s—Brandy Kohut gave me bandages to place over the horrendous blisters that my Target shoes inflicted.
Our JDRF CEO dinner began at 6:30 that evening. I couldn’t believe that I would have an opportunity to meet the leader of our foundation! Mr. Brewer and his VP of research and advocacy, Dr. David Wheadon, provided an excellent presentation in regard to making Type 1 become Type “None.” Dr. Wheadon actually pulled out a preliminary model of an islet sheet! I got to hold it and take a picture with it! The islet sheet smelled like fresh tape.. So new and innovative!
Tuesday morning was awake at 6:30 AM to greet me with sunshine through my hotel window. I took my time to get ready, and pack my suitcase. Our first meeting on the hill wasn’t until 1:30 PM that day (with Senator Sherrod Brown’s staff). Jenna and I did some sightseeing, and stopped at the National Museum of American History.
We met with Senator Brown’s staff member, Val Molaison right on time, to discuss the renewal of the SDP. After our meeting, we rushed to meet with the staff of Steve Stivers (OH-15). Taryn was great! Jenna and I enjoyed meeting with her very much. We had some extra time to do some more sightseeing and eat a late lunch before we picked up our luggage at the Capital Hotel to get to the metro. We ate at this pizza joint called We, The Pizza. Jenna and I pondered over how many carbohydrates was in a New York-sized slice of pizza (25 grams, probably).
After we picked up our luggage, we walked a couple of blocks to get to the metro (my first time using it). Once at the airport, we checked our luggage and sat at our gate to charge our phones and scarf some dinner. Our flight was delayed, again (surprise), but we finally landed back home in Columbus, Ohio after 9:30 PM.
Overall, I was honored to have been a part of JDRF Government Day. I would be thrilled to accept a nominated invitation next year!
We’re so happy to have you advocating on our behalf, Meghann!