Michelle Rago dreams of documenting children's life with diabetes through an extensive photo exhibit -- and she needs our help to do it.
Michelle's name will be familiar to many ChildrenwithDiabetes families as one of the Elementary Program Staff for the CWD conferences and as the winner of the Jeff Hitchcock Distinguished Service Award in 2006. Michelle is mom to Trent and Maya, who both have diabetes, and to Michaela, who does not. Michelle has been an active member of the American Diabetes Association Legal Advocacy group, after Trent was denied acceptance into preschool.
Right now, Michelle is gunning to launch a photo-based awareness campaign through a competition called "Name Your Dream Assignment" -- a national photography contest sponsored by Microsoft and Lenovo. The winner receives $50,000 to complete their dream photography assignment.
Michelle, inspired by her involvement with CWD, is currently a front runner with the idea of documenting "Insulin is Not a Cure" in photographs.
Voting is ON for the most popular idea -- and it ends on April 3, so act now! After voting ends, a select group of judges will evaluate the most popular ideas and a winner will be announced two to three weeks later.
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Michelle was kind enough to talk with us this week about her campaign:
DBMine) Michelle, what inspired you to enter this photography contest with the concept "Insulin Is Not a Cure"?
MR) I really enjoy taking the pictures of children at Children With Diabetes conferences. It is one of my favorite things to do. Jeff Hitchcock has supported my efforts by posting my pictures on the website. And we have incorporated children's photos into the elementary, childcare, and tween sessions by having children make memory books at conferences with their photographs. Prior to CWD conferences, I did art projects using photos with my children's classes and at gatherings of friends and families using my Polaroid! I would like to tie together my love for children's photography and my knowledge of the lives of children with diabetes in an exhibit.
DBMine) Others have photographed life with diabetes -- in particular Teresa Ollila, who won an award last year for her work. So what do you hope to accomplish with your assignment? Why should people vote for you?
MR) I want to compile a beautiful and thought-provoking exhibit of photos. So, this is largely about art. But it is also about art with a message. I want people to see children with diabetes, first and foremost, as the beautiful and vibrant children they are. I also want people to understand what children with Type 1 diabetes must do each and every day just to stay alive. I want to show not just the physical tasks that self care of diabetes requires, but also the emotional energy it demands of children. I think that, for many people, it will be both enlightening and awe-inspiring.
DBMine) We've looked at your Flickr page and Facebook galleries, and you've captured many "diabetic moments" in the lives of your kids and the CWD kids at conferences. How has photography affected you and your family?
MR) I think my children are really too young to appreciate the photographic memories I have captured for them. I hope that one day, many years from now, they will appreciate the scrapbooks and photographic history I have compiled for them. For now, my children mostly ignore me when I have my camera. This sometimes enables me to get great shots and sometimes frustrates me. In particular, it frustrates me because I really like portraits or photographs where the viewer can see eyes and faces. Thankfully, I have three of the most beautiful children to photograph: Trent, the one with Type 1 diabetes; Maya, who has a very rare kind of diabetes called monogenic diabetes, that she was born with; and Michela, the one without diabetes who looks after the other two.
DBMine) Can you tell us about your family and how diabetes has affected you?
Trent is now almost 13 years old. He was diagnosed a few days after his fourth birthday. My husband insisted on getting him on an insulin pump immediately, so he spent less than two months on insulin injections. (But of course, he can give himself one now when he needs to.) He started on an H-tron pump when no one was putting toddlers on a pump. His pump was so big, it pulled his pants down. He now uses an Animas pump. We found CWD within weeks of his diagnosis and our best friends now include those that we have made through CWD. Most importantly, Trent has always had friends with diabetes since shortly after he was diagnosed.
Maya turned 2 in November. The story of how she came to our family when she was 9 months old is nothing short of a miracle. Natalie Bellini, the teen leader at CWD, told us how she had delivered pump supplies to a baby in Pennslyvania in foster care who had Type 1 diabetes. My husband and I had always wanted more children and siblings for our two children. (We also have a daughter without diabetes name Michela. Michela likes to say she has Type 3 diabetes because she looks after Trent and Maya.) We made calls to the baby's caseworker and went through the process of becoming foster parents in order to adopt Maya. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was just one month old. As it turned out, after she came to our family, we discovered she had monogenic diabetes (a relatively newly discovered, very rare kind) which is now treated by checking her blood sugars several times per day and giving her pills throughout the day. Her mother who gave birth to her signed over her legal rights so that my husband and I could adopt her. We have now extended our family to include Maya's family of birth and see them regularly.
DBMine) How long have you been a photographer? How did you get started?
MR) My husband bought me my first "real" Nikon when we were married in 1992. He had a small photography business in high school and later took courses at Harvard, where we met. He taught me how to use a camera. I reluctantly switched to digital in the past couple of years. Prior to that, all my pictures were 35 mm.
DBMine) Last question, probably the classic one most photographers get... what camera do you use now?
MR) I use whatever camera I can get a hold of! Frankly, some of my best early CWD photos were with my unsophisticated Kodak digital camera. After I won the Jeff Hitchcock service award, which came with a monetary prize, I bought that Kodak and switched to digital. It was not a very expensive camera, but it was the best I could buy at the time. Then I began using a Nikon D40, which I adore. And most recently, I was loaned a Nikon D700, which I am just learning to use.
Good luck, Michelle! We're getting our votes in now -- and hope you'll keep telling diabetes stories in pictures no matterwhat happens with this particular contest.