I’ve heard it a thousand times over the years.
“Well, you’re family is connected. I mean, you know people in Washington on a personal level. So it’s different for you in advocacy.”
Well, this is true. But what most might not realize is the way my family became “Connected” in the first place: via the JDRF Promise to Remember Me Campaign.
Okay, so it is true that my family in general is pretty well known around the Boston area, via my wonderful late Grandfather, William H. Ohrenberger Sr. (Imagine my eldest daughter’s surprise when she recently found out that, by coincidence, she may be doing her student teaching at the William H. Ohrenberger Elementary School in Boston. “Mom? Is that school named after grandpa?” “Umm, of course it is!”) but in the diabetes world, we truly were – and still are – just another family reaching out for a cure.
So when I read about the very first Promise to Remember Me Campaign in 2000, it just seemed like the right thing to do. My daughter had applied for the first Children’s Congress the year before and been rejected, so I already knew she had an interest in advocacy. And the great thing about the Promise campaign, I realized right off, is you don’t even have to try out. There’s room for everyone on this empowering adventure.
So we signed up. That was back in the pre-internet savvy says. So we had to call our Congressman’s office, set an appointment, meet with him, take an old-fashioned film photo, develop it and then mail it to JDRF’s Washington office.
Our meeting was with our Representative at the time, Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA). He offered to meet us at the restaurant just outside his seaside home at Marina Bay in Massachusetts. Lauren, just nine years old at the time, took time to think about what she wanted to say and made a small badge with her photo on it and the words “Promise to remember me,” for him to tuck into his folders when he was on the Hill.
She wasn’t nervous – the kid is born a networker – and when they met, (next to a sparkling ocean on a lovely day) they spent a long time chatting about her life with diabetes and her desire for a cure. They connected. And every two years from that campaign on, Lauren and Rep. Delahunt met and caught up on this. He also, during a visit we made to Washington DC, took her down on the floor of the House of Reps to cast his vote in the very first Homeland Security Act. And when she was a teen, he called her and offered her a full summer internship in DC at his office (she declined as at that point she was not ready to give up tennis team and swim team and “being a kid” all summer.) We joke with him that we could use our photos of her with him as an “as you grow” chart. Each time, she’s more grown up.
As for the late Senator Kennedy, the first time JDRF had a Promise meeting with him, Lauren was not invited. That’s because before the internet, folks depended on reaching out to who they knew and who they connected with. The family running that event had to limit the totals, so we were not included. Today, anyone can sign up on line and be included, so that’s cool. I was disappointed at Lauren being left out, but you know, everything happens for a reason.
Because during the second Promise campaign, Lauren did meet with Senator Kennedy. And something about her – and him – just clicked. They became close friends. He even wrote her a college recommendation letter well before she would need it because he worried (correctly) he would not be around when the time came for her to need it. Their friendship that grew from a first Promise meeting blossomed not only into something that benefited her, but something that benefited all with diabetes. Because, quite simply, on Lauren’s behalf (and he said that all the time), Senator Kennedy became a champion for supporting legislation to help people with diabetes. When he promised to remember her, he took it to heart, and he truly did. And so did his family. When it was time for the groundbreaking for the Institute to honor him, his wife called Lauren directly and invited her to be a VIP guest. “I know the Senator would want that,” she said. His Promise to remember her lives on.
Others remember too. A few years ago I was heading home from a work assignment in Salt Lake City. I’d been upgraded to first class (thank you. U.S. Air!) and sat down and settled in. I looked at the person next to me and noticed it was … Senator John Kerry (who’d recently lost a bid for President). I thought for a moment about if I was going to say hello or leave him be. Then I decided to say, “Hi, Senator Kerry. Not sure if you remember me but, I’m Lauren Stanford’s mom.”
He lit up. “Of course I remember Lauren! I even read one of her notes to me on the Senate Floor. After all, I promised to remember her!” I was astounded. He really did remember. And it really did make a difference.
So what I’m saying is this: the Promise Campaign gives every single American who cares about someone with diabetes or has diabetes a chance to become “connected” in a powerful way.
Okay, so not every Senator is going to invite your child to speak at the Democratic National Convention (as happened with my daughter). Not every Congressman is going to invite you to stand on the House floor. Not every participant is going to be invited to testify at a crucial joint committee senate hearing.
But every single person who signs up and participates will become a voice that has been heard and a person who has made a difference.
So be you an adult with Type 1, the parent of a child with Type 1 or just someone who cares, sign on today. I don’t care of you fundraise for the ADA or DRI or JDRF or no one. This is your chance to make history. And every single one of our voices is needed. After all, who knows which person will be the one to inspire the leader to do even more? Could be yours or your child’s.
And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my daughter is majoring in communications and politics and looks to being a senate or house staffer one day and possibly, an elected official herself down the road.
That first sunny day meeting with Rep. Delahunt may have sealed the deal. Making a difference is totally addicting. Try it and see.
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