** College season is upon us and I want to tell you all about someone I recently met who has a great passion for supporting diabetics as they transition through college and beyond. I met Tina at the 2011 Friends for Life Conference and learned of The College Diabetes Network which is dedicated to supporting students as they navigate the college waters. I think it is a fantastic idea and it fulfills a desperate need for peer support. With that, I’ll let Tina tell you more!
The College Diabetes Network
My name is Christina Roth and I recently met Scott at the Friends for Life conference a few weeks ago. (I agree with Scott! I highly recommend the conference! It’s a blast!). I was down at the conference on behalf of the College Diabetes Network (CDN), an organization I started my junior year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
My Story: I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 14 years old and I struggled with diabetes throughout high school. I was finally able to gain some control over it when I got to college thanks to my CGM- but it wasn’t easy. For those of you who have been through college, regardless of if you are diabetic or not, I’m sure you remember the late nights, intense stress studying for exams, unhealthy foods (late night pizza anyone?!), crazy parties, bad decisions…..the list goes on and on.
Well as fun as “the college experience” is it poses many challenges to managing diabetes. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping sugars under control can be completely exhausting, especially on top of classes and a college social life. Compounding this is the fact that most colleges and universities offer NO support services to students with diabetes. “Diabetes” wasn’t even a health concern on my school’s health services website, never mind that the staff knew very little about the disease! I had to jump through hoops to be allowed to switch to a smaller meal plan as (surprisingly) the “all you can eat” meal plan, which allowed you to get as much food as you wanted three times a day but that wouldn’t let you take any food out of the building for between those times, was wreaking havoc on both my blood sugars and my finances. As everything was either simple carbs or sugar so I ended up just buying most of my food at the grocery store.
With the many issues we as diabetics have to deal with on a daily basis and all the added issues living at college, I began to try to reach out to other students going through the same experience. Surprisingly it turns out we are somewhat of a forgotten population which might have something to do with wanting to be completely independent and in charge of our own lives. However, I didn’t really see that as a good enough reason to have our health compromised, so it seemed the best way to solve this problem was to find a way to get students with diabetes together so that we could help each other.
2 ½ years later…What we have become!
“The College Diabetes Network (CDN) is a national non-profit organization which strives to empower, educate, and enable college students with type 1 diabetes to fulfill their potential and limit the negative physical and psychological effects of the disease. CDN’s ultimate goal is to create a community which will enable students to continue to thrive in both their healthcare and scholastic accomplishments, and enable them to leave college healthy and ready to pursue dreams.
The CDN website provides information to students on all aspects of life with diabetes on campus, including scholarships, studying abroad, nutrition, exercise, research, and available technologies. For chapters we offer tips on starting and running a chapter. For parents we offer tips on dealing with the transition and discussion boards where parents can connect with each other. The section for university administrators will be updated soon and will feature information regarding step-by-step ways in which campus administrators can pro-actively make changes to make life on campus less challenging for students with diabetes. The CDN website also creates online communities for both college students and parents where they can connect with others from across the country. We are continuously updating the information available on the website.
CDN chapters offer a way for students to connect, talk, laugh, and vent about life with diabetes on campus. If there is no chapter at their school yet, or if they have a student group that is not yet registered with CDN, it is easy to start and/or register. They can simply email us and we will walk them through it. We create a webpage for each chapter, on which information specific to that school and chapter is posted. We also create a CDN email address so that chapter leadership can be passed down as students graduate.
Chapters are created and run by students with a focus on peer support. CDN supports these chapters and their students by providing the most up-to-date information which relates to students’ lives and which the students themselves have expressed interest in knowing more about. We now have about 16 chapters located throughout the country and one in Canada. These chapters range in development from being established student groups that have registered with us, to students that want to start a chapter on their campus and are in the beginning stages of starting a group. All of our chapters are different, they are run by the students themselves and are based on what each particular group and their members are interested in. However we do offer support and suggestions for different events, meetings, speakers, etc. Within the next few months we will have a published “Chapter Toolkit” available which will be a step by step guide on how to start, establish, and run a chapter.
Being a non-profit organization, a large amount of our time consists of making sure that we have the funding to successfully carry out our mission. We are currently working to strengthen our board of directors, bring in donors, apply for grants, and find sponsors. If you are interested in any of these, or have any suggestions for us, we would love to hear them!
CDN Website: http://collegediabetesnetwork.org/
CDN Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/CollegeDiabetes
For information, questions, suggestions, or if you would like to start a chapter or get involved with CDN, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org !
** Thanks Tina and I think what you’re doing is fantastic and hope as that more and more students find the resources that you and the CDN have developed; enabling them to not only find support for themselves but to support others in turn!