Two years ago, I attended the inaugural College Diabetes Network (CDN) Retreat in Bridgton, Maine. As a college student about to enter her senior year, I was eager to connect with other CDN chapter leaders across the country and gain practices and ideas I could implement at my chapter at UMass Amherst.
I knew the retreat would help improve my leadership skills, but I had no idea that it would invigorate and inspire me to the degree it did. I was able to return to school in the fall and have a successful final semester with my chapter that ended with a new leader taking over my presidency. I felt confident in my chapter’s future.
Now, a year and a half later, I’m an alumni of both the CDN and UMass. I joined the “real world” and started my career about a week after my graduation from college; as a result, I’ve been quite busy since then. Even though I’ve moved on from UMass, my involvement with the CDN on the national level remains intact. I enjoy helping CDN out on a volunteer basis whenever possible and when it was evident that I could attend the 2016 CDN Retreat as an alum, I jumped at the chance.
As excited as I was to go, I was also a bit hesitant. I wasn’t sure how the retreat might impact me as an alum/volunteer as opposed to an active college student. Questions streamed ceaselessly though my mind for a solid week before the retreat: Would my presence there have a positive influence on other retreat attendees? Would I learn as much as I did during the first retreat? Would I fit in with everyone else? Would I have fun?
I’m pleased to say that the answer to all of those questions is yes. The retreat lasted from a Monday evening to a Friday morning, and from the moment I set foot into the house and was greeted by dozens of other T1Ds, I felt like I belonged.
I bonded immediately with the students as well as the other volunteers and CDN employees. Sure, diabetes was our most obvious connection, but our friendships formed on a basis that was far beyond that. Conversations flowed easily as we all tested our blood sugars and bolused before mealtimes: The beeps and alerts from our various devices were akin to background music that was barely heard over our enthusiastic ramblings. We talked about our experiences in college—what we majored in, roommate stories, our aspirations for the future. Plenty of diabetes humor was injected (ha, get it?) into most group chats.
When we weren’t basking in the great outdoors of Maine, we were participating in workshops designed to help student chapter leaders and members alike thrive in running their school’s CDN chapter. These sessions ranged in focus from social media tips and tricks to fundraising tactics. In each session, I was in awe of the energy and passion that each chapter attendee demonstrated. I was amazed by how strongly I felt that I could relate to them as we shared struggles that we experienced in running respective chapters, but reassuring to know that there were solutions to these problems as shown by mutual perseverance and a desire to be great leaders. I felt pride when I sat with other CDN and college alums and shared our journeys into the “real world” so far with the other attendees—it was incredible to hear how much they have accomplished in less than two years since graduating, and I hope that those who listened to us felt encouraged by what we had to say.
There was a particular moment in the retreat that was beautiful and emotional for me. It was our last full day in Maine and we had two hours in the afternoon to spend however we wanted. Many of us chose to bask in the sunny weather by either swimming or kayaking in the lake, or merely sunbathing together on the dock and the small boat tethered to it. We blasted music and talked and laughed together, and for a short time I was able to forget about not just my diabetes, but everyone else’s, too. It was an awesome shared moment and that was when I knew that this retreat impacted me just as positively, if not more so, than the first one.
When Friday came around, it was time to part with my newfound friends. I was sad, but I knew that our conversations and friendships were just beginning. I’m looking forward to the future: I’m excited to see the other retreat attendees kick some major ass in the next few years and I have no doubt they’ll continue to inspire me just as much as they did in those short five days. A huge thank you to all of you—the retreat attendees and the CDN staff/volunteers, especially Tina, Mindy, Emily, Sarah, Meghan, Dan, and Greg. It was a fantastic week and I’m so grateful to all of you for making it memorable. Here’s to the 2017 CDN Retreat and the continued success of CDN on both the chapter and the national levels!