Perspective/Type 1 Diabetes
One of the worst feelings humans can experience is feeling alone in the company of others. One of the best is hearing from another: “I understand. You have my support.” That is what the type 1 diabetes (T1) community heard from the larger Hammonton community at the Lions Club’s 2nd Annual Spring-Fest on April 2.
Held on the grounds of our READ Preschool and Camp Tuscaloosa, Spring-Fest raised over $10,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). But that’s not what made the event so special. It was the people who made it happen. It was truly a community event, both in its preparation and enjoyment, showing support for people living with T1. It is personal for me, because my 8-year-old son Casey was diagnosed with T1 two years ago and I now know many people who are living T1’s daily realities.
Spring-Fest is a happy family-friendly Easter event made possible by the combined efforts and donations of many in Hammonton: The Hammonton Lions Club, READ Preschool, Hammonton’s police and fire departments, numerous volunteers, over 150 Hammonton businesses and residents, and the hundreds of people who attended.
This year’s Spring-Fest offered an Easter egg hunt with 5,000 eggs, a visit with the Easter bunny, face painting, a prize wheel, food trucks, animals, a fire truck, live music, cookies, ice cream, flower bulb planting and martial arts activities. A fleet of bikes and scooters, play equipment on the grounds and a large playground entertained children, while a raffle of five dozen gift baskets and works of art brought cries of joy from happy winners of all ages.
The night before and morning of Spring-Fest, several family and friends arrived from other states, eager again to enjoy an event months in the making. They helped with event set-up, face painting, keeping an eye on our four children and contributing prizes as well. Our teams of Lions and Leos (junior Lions) worked hard that morning on the final preparations. Their plan was well thought-out, so everything was organized and arranged beautifully. We had already pulled together to shift the festivities to our rain date from the day before. My children ran gleefully around the playing field, assisting with set-up and checking out all the activities. We organizers happily greeted each other and, later, attendees too, exchanging hugs, happy to see friends and neighbors eager to share the fun ahead. Parking filled up so quickly that some attendees parked nearby.
Among the first to arrive was our longtime friend Jan Blits, who has lived with T1 for 57 years. He came bearing some of his own Dexcom G6 continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) for Casey, because our pharmacy had suddenly stopped selling them. He knows that no one in the T1 community should struggle alone. And that’s why other people who have T1 or care for a child with T1 or similarly demanding condition offered their time, effort and more to make Spring-Fest a success.
This year we had two Hammonton police officers assisting with event safety, not just Lt. Sean Grasso, an old friend who shares having a child with a lifechanging chronic condition, but also Officer Dalton Scola. Officer Scola entered our life only recently. He made a big impact on Casey a few months ago when he learned that Casey has T1 and told Casey that he, too, was diagnosed with T1 as a child. When Casey spotted him at Spring-Fest, he ran to greet him. Casey didn’t know what Officer Scola was about to present him: a custom-designed case for his insulin pump. Casey absolutely loves it, not least because it’s from a “special friend.” I learned the next morning that Casey had already been working on a writing assignment about a hero. He had chosen Officer Scola.
Then there was our friend Mike Delfiandra and his friend Nate Scardilli, both of whom have T1. Mike has supported us throughout our journey with T1, listening and offering advice and Nate kindly offered the same. A talented metal artist, Mike had created a magnificent metal fish for the art raffle. One of our visiting family members excitedly won it. Casey was quick to ask if he could have it, to which she generously answered, “Yes, when you are old enough to have your own apartment.” It means a lot to Casey that a fellow T1 put months of time and heart into making something so beautiful for their shared cause.
I welcomed Robin Gazzara to the event, who also lives with T1. We discussed how insulin pumps and CGMs have transformed quality of life with T1. Robin and her students had come to sing for us. Her beautiful voice is an unforgettable gift to Spring-Fest and always brings tears to my eyes.
I soon saw Sara Smith and Chris Schilling, two JDRF representatives and friends. Chris also has a child with T1. My family and I have joined their efforts at JDRF to fund research and support newly-diagnosed families, and here they were supporting Spring-Fest.
Towards the end of the event, a Lions member told me that when Casey saw the donation boxes were full of money, he exclaimed, “Is that all for JDRF!?” When she said yes, he promptly put the $16 he was holding into a donation box. I learned of other instances of inspired altruism among other children: some gave all their Easter eggs or prizes to other children, including a coveted “golden egg” prize basket and a 14-inch tall plastic egg containing special prizes.
Spring-Fest is a story of communities coming together to support one another. The T1 community immediately began expressing its gratitude online to all who played a part in Spring-Fest: “I’m so grateful for the support from others. It helps us feel like we’re not alone…,” “It was such an awesome event. I know my son was so excited,” “Amazing,” “Great job,” “That’s awesome,” “Thank you so much for supporting the JDRF” and “Thank you! You’re part of the solution!”
Lisa Seitles and her husband Sam are the owners of READ Preschool and Camp Tuscaloosa. They have four children and are active members of the community.