I attended the 4th annual College Diabetes Network (CDN) Retreat this past week. It was my 3rd time going, and I’m pleased to report that my 2nd time going as a volunteer was incredibly rewarding.
It’s never easy to walk into a room filled with 26 people you’ve never met before. It helps that there were 8 other people present that I knew previously to varying degrees. That fact, combined with the knowledge that we all had type 1 diabetes in common, helped me feel comfortable enough to get to know the strangers that sat before me.
Over the next 5 days and 4 nights, these individuals became my family. Whether we were bonding over boluses or sharing misery in the vicious mosquitoes of Maine, we were doing so with humor, respect, empathy, and empowerment. Here’s what we were up to during that whirlwind week, by the numbers:
- On Tuesday, the students spent time in 3 different breakout sessions about chapter start-up, leadership transitions, and social media.
- Lunch was made and served—sandwiches for 30-plus people! In addition, we had about 50 bags worth of KNOW food products to snack on. These foods are free of gluten, peanuts, yeast, grains, dairy, wheat, and soy, and are made with “superfoods” including chia seeds, flax seeds, coconuts, almonds, and egg whites. Needless to say, we all enjoyed sampling their offerings, with their fluffy vegan chocolate chip waffles being the big hit of the week.
- After the 1st strategic planning session and an information session on surveys and data collection, it was Taco Tuesday! My fellow volunteers and I must have cooked at least 10 pounds of ground beef.
- The fabulous Christel lead a terrific session on political advocacy later that evening, during which students came up with a list about what makes them angry that was at least 2 dozen items long, and may or may not have included a certain Cheeto-hued president.
- Wednesday entailed a 2nd set of breakout sessions and a focus group on Afrezza, the 1-of-a-kind inhaled insulin.
- Students also had their public speaking skills put to the test on Wednesday. We heard 6 different pairs of students introduce one another to the group, and an additional 14 told both real and completely made-up stories to the audience. Everyone did a stellar job and learned their strengths and weaknesses as public speakers.
- Food for Wednesday involved the creation of 2 full pots of chili (plus a vegetarian option), and pounds of pasta for spaghetti and meatballs. According to the shopping list, we had 400 meatballs at our disposal: Approximately 10 meatballs per person!
- Thursday was jam-packed with student presentations, guest introductions, and networking opportunities. The student presentations were a culmination of group product pitches that 6 teams of students brainstormed. Their ideas were incredible, from a T1D Food Key to a Stick it to Stigma campaign. I felt super proud of each group, as I’m sure it was far from easy to get up in front of so many people to pitch their ideas!
- Between 6 CDN staff members, 3 volunteers, 2 board members, 13 special guests, 26 students, 1 dog (Arya), and 1 baby (Michael), the week was chock full of faces, stories, and connections that I won’t soon forget. And perhaps one of the more monumental numbers of the week? The number of mosquitoes killed by the students, staff, and volunteers: The final count was 302! I bet that sounds like a lot, but trust me, that’s nothing compared to the amount we were swarmed by when we took our group photo on the dock.
The memories I made this week are countless. But I do know 1 thing for sure: The individuals I met throughout the retreat are amazing advocates, strong leaders, WICKED smart, endearingly charismatic, and true inspirations. I’m sincerely excited to see how each student continues to thrive not just with diabetes, but also with their individual CDN chapters and college careers. Thank you to each one of you for a magical week, and a special thank you to Tina, Emily, Mindy, Sarah, Dan, and Katie for allowing me to return as a volunteer.