Diabetes Forecast

Volunteer Eileen Clarke Helps the Newly Diagnosed

By Kelly Toves ,

Eileen Clark

Marcea Pugliese recalls the first time she spoke with Eileen Clarke, RN, a volunteer for the American Diabetes Association: It was like talking to an old friend, she says. The women spent more than an hour on the phone discussing how to raise a child with diabetes. Pugliese, 55, who runs a day care at her home in Rocky Hill, Conn., was feeling overwhelmed; her granddaughter, Gabrielle, now 8, had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Clarke advised her to look at it this way: Gabby is a little girl who also happens to have diabetes. That first chat alone, Pugliese says, improved her outlook on Gabby's future.

Kayla (left) and Kelsey Clarke, now 17, with their first insulin pumps in 1999.

Clarke, 55, of Middlebury, Conn., offers the kind of advice only a parent could give. Her twin daughters, Kayla and Kelsey, were diagnosed with type 1 at 14 months old, and both she and her husband, Bill, 65, have type 2. But Clarke has more than personal experience with the disease—she has spent years working to help families adjust to their new lifestyles and move forward. "Whenever anyone has a question about diabetes, they come to me," Clarke says. So when she receives a phone call from someone she's never met, she takes time to provide help and reassurance: "I want them to know it's not the end of the world."

She is just one of hundreds of thousands of volunteers the Association will recognize this month during its annual National Volunteer Appreciation Week, from April 10 to 16. (ADA's Connecticut offices held a reception in January to honor Clarke and other local volunteers.) From doctors and lawyers to schoolchildren, each ADA volunteer contributes in ways large or small to promoting diabetes awareness, education, and prevention.

John Griffin, 54, of Victoria, Texas, is a lawyer, diabetes advocate, and, as chair of the ADA's national board of directors, the Association's top volunteer. He says he's always moved when he hears from people like Marcea Pugliese who benefit from ADA volunteers' efforts. "When you are on common ground with someone who knows what you are going through, it can make a world of difference," Griffin says. "People like Eileen Clarke are changing lives every day through the simple act of volunteering."

When her daughters were diagnosed, Clarke says, she felt she lacked a support system. She started volunteering so that others wouldn't feel the same way. As a leader with Family Link, an ADA program that connects families of children with diabetes, she contacts families of the newly diagnosed, as well as anyone who looks to ADA for assistance. That's how she met Marcea Pugliese, her husband, Thomas, and their granddaughters, Gabby and Alex, 7. She invited them to an ADA picnic last summer, where Gabby could get to know other kids with diabetes. Pugliese says Gabby met a young girl who went on an insulin pump after a year with diabetes, and it made her want to get one. "The socials and picnic have been invaluable to us," Pugliese says. "Gabby went on the pump [in January], and I really don't think that would have happened [as soon as it did] had she not had the opportunity to talk to other kids who were already pumping."

Clarke is also a parent advocate for ADA's Safe at School program. She visits schools and talks to counselors, nurses, and teachers about Section 504 plans, which are agreements that outline the care of students with diabetes and ensure that they will have equal access to school programs and activities. She says she went to nursing school in 2007 to get her degree so that she would have more credibility in these visits, and be able to speak as both a nurse and a parent. She also participates in Call to Congress, ADA's premier lobbying day in Washington, D.C., and has helped get diabetes-related laws passed in Connecticut.

Signs of Clarke's enthusiasm abound: Her family has four cars with vanity plates related to diabetes, and she hands out the ADA's red bracelets to her patients with diabetes at the Glendale Rehabilitation Center in Naugatuck, Conn. Clarke's passion for volunteering has rubbed off on her daughters, who are now 17. They've taken part in the ADA's Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes since they were toddlers and held fund-raising dances for the ADA. This summer, they will be junior counselors at ADA Diabetes Camp Clara Barton in North Oxford, Mass.

After more than 14 years of service to the ADA, Clarke says she remains an active volunteer because diabetes is still so widely misunderstood and the need for education is so great. "It's really hard to hear [people with diabetes] say, 'I didn't take care of myself before,' " she says. "We want a cure—we need a cure! Until there is a cure, there is ADA."

For people interested in volunteering with the ADA, Clarke suggests starting by working in events, particularly Diabetes EXPO because it offers a wealth of information about the disease. Then, she says, do the Step Out walk "because that's where you get all the energy. Once you start, you won't want to stop volunteering."



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