People to Know 2013: Mary Podjasek
Mary Podjasek is on a mission.Through her work as president of the Diabetes Scholars Foundation, Mary has led a variety of initiatives designed to help youth with diabetes through scholarships, grants, and programs.
The foundation, started by a group of parents, gives out thousands of dollars in scholarship money to a select group of students with type 1 diabetes. This past year, over 1,000 people applied, and 49 were chosen to receive scholarship money. The foundation also gives need-based money to families so they can attend the annual Children With Diabetes Friends for Life conference.
"We started the college scholarships because we wanted diabetes to be an advantage for some kids," Mary says. "Our whole goal was to empower success for people living with type 1 diabetes and to do that through education."
Being eligible for an award because of diabetes instead of in spite of diabetes is a welcome change—and I speak from personal experience. I received a scholarship in 2010 as I entered Northwestern University. I'm accustomed to diabetes preventing me from participating in an activity, not providing me with an exclusive opportunity. The scholarship redefined, at least on one occasion, what it means to be diabetic. It became an advantage rather than a burden.
Mary, 52, of Palatine, Ill., knows diabetes: Both her husband, Mike, and 21-year-old daughter, Kara, have type 1 diabetes. Her family's experience has inspired her to try to make a positive difference for others.
"You can either feel bad about yourself, or you can try to do some good in the world," she says. "I just thought if we can make a difference somehow in the life of a family or a kid with diabetes, we should try."
Stanley Kay is a journalism major at Northwestern University and recipient of a Diabetes Scholars Foundation scholarship.