There are so many amazing folks in the diabetes community who are working day-in and day-out to raise awareness and educate about life with diabetes. Oftentimes, these advocates don't get the attention they deserve, which is why we've launched a brand-new series called "Amazing Advocates" to highlight their work.
This month's AA is Lexi Newell, a D-mom who works as an event planner in Las Vegas, NV, where she lives with her husband and two sons, Justice and Synsyre. Justice was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes three years ago at age six. Last November, Lexi co-founded a new grassroots advocacy organization called The Blue Heel Society, with the mission of "promoting awareness, pursuing the continued fight for a cure, highlighting obstacles people diagnosed with diabetes are faced with, and promoting advocacy for the diabetes community as a whole." Lexi joins us today to tell us all about it:
AN) The way Blue Heel Society evolved was fate, I guess. It was the day before World Diabetes Day 2011. I posted a picture on Facebook of a fabulous pair of Louboutin shoes. They were, of course, blue! A conversation started about the severity of these 6-inch stilettos. I mentioned a walk in "Blue Heels" and how it would be a cool way to raise awareness. Another D-Mom came up with the name instantaneously. Tony Cervati put together the blog and the Blue Heel Society was born! It evolved overnight and became much more than "a walk in Blue Heels." It's bigger than any of us could have dreamed, though The Walk could still happen! Collectively we came up with other avenues to use Blue Heels to raise awareness. And the rest is history!
What does the Society actually do? Does it focus on fund-raising?
We want people to understand diabetes, know that anyone can be affected and that we as a community deserve compassion and understanding. There are so many misconceptions about diabetes, not to mention the blame and judgement that comes with this disease (of any type). We hope to eliminate that! We'd also like to become a staple in the diabetes community, to support one another and assist in anyway we can.
Right now, we are working on implementing state chapters who will be appointed to facilitate BHS events in their area, from corporate fundraisers to tea parties. We have folks from New York, Ohio and Nevada already interested. We are also looking to implement "shoe-ins" where people gather in blue shoes to discuss diabetes. There are a lot of ideas, but because there are so many cooks in the kitchen, things are still being finalized.
Blue because it's the color that represents diabetes, so that was a no-brainer for us. Heels were chosen because, much like diabetes, from the outside things look fine, even fabulous. But underneath there is pain, discomfort and frustration. It was a perfect fit.
Blue Heels sounds very female-focused. Can D-dads and guy PWDs participate too?
Absolutely! Blue Heels is our name because of the symbolism of the heel. But we know not everyone wears heels, so any blue shoe will do! NO ONE is excluded from BHS. We embrace, welcome and support all people living diabetes or loving and caring for someone with diabetes.
How did you go about creating your organization? Who else is involved?
We formed overnight. We emailed, conference called, worked out logistics for our website, mission etc. We are blessed to have Tony Cervati, a type 1 PWD and endurance cyclist. He takes care of the technical part of BHS and is also our CEO/Co-Founder. Thomas Moore, another Type Awesome who is very active in the DOC, is our Communications Chief and Jen Loving, a fabulous D-Mom who works with JDRF as well as her local community, is our Chief Content officer. We have an awesome team if I may say so!
His words exactly when I asked him were: "I think it's very cool and fashionable! I like that it helps people know more about diabetes, and ladies get better heels! You get information about diabetes!"
What's been the most challenging aspect of building an organization?
We are all so passionate about what we do, but we are all so different as well. Working together towards a common goal and in a manner that we all can get on board with is a challenge. But overall, I would say the biggest challenge is finding the time to do everything we want to do. If I could, I would do BHS full-time and never work again! But we will pull together, and make it work.
How did you get involved in diabetes advocacy?
Twitter started it for me! That's how I found the DOC and from there blogging. JDRF is a HUGE part of my life. I'm a JDRF mentor and volunteer. Justice is a youth ambassador and I volunteer for any events I can, like health fairs. In 2010, Sherry from Jenna's Pet Monkey and I created Special Sibling of a D-Kid Day, which is a day in November dedicated to the amazing siblings of kids with diabetes.
If people are interested in getting involved as a BHS chapter head, how can they get in touch?
They can email the Blue Heel Society at 187C@blueheelsociety.org. We also have "shoe box" in the works for the blog, which will have an application.
What advice do you have for folks thinking about starting their own advocacy project?
Do it. It may seem hard, or even impossibly out of reach, but it's not. The DOC is an AMAZING community that embraces new ideas and campaigns with so much love and support. Dare I say they make it easy? It is a lot of work but the benefits are endless. To wake up in the morning and know you made a difference, and changed someone's view of diabetes is a wonderful feeling. I need to quote Gandhi right now, because I believe he said it best: "Be the change you wish to see in the world."
Thanks for all the hard work you do, Lexi! And if you'd like to nominate an Amazing Advocate to be profiled here, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.