Today, our series on the many small, 'maverick' organizations making an impact the diabetes world continues with Jimmy Insulin — the alias for a new diabetes mentoring program. Who the heck? you may ask. My question exactly. To find out, I've been in touch with the man behind 'Jimmy,' Founder & Executive Director Jeremy Weisbach, out of Chicago, IL:
DM) Jeremy, 'Jimmy Insulin' is a free service to connect mentors with diabetics in need, correct? Is it face-to-face, or purely web-based?
Jeremy) Jimmy Insulin provides free peer-to-peer connections enabling one-on-one diabetes support. We have a network of volunteers that have been living with diabetes and are successfully managing themselves. We connect diabetes beginners (people in need of support) with diabetes guides (people that can give support). We also connect caregivers (mother to mother, brother to brother, son to son, spouse to spouse, etc...). We make our connections based on similar factors such as age, sex, location, personality, lifestyle.
How is the mentoring actually set up?
All mentors are volunteers, and are pre-screened to make sure they have the knowledge and the right approach to help someone else. Then we ask the person seeking help what they want... so we provide the initial connection, and then the two people form the relationship. They decide whether they want to meet for coffee or dinner, or use email or Skype, and how often they want to be in touch. We check in a week after the connection is made to see if both parties are happy. If not, we make another match.
What's your personal story behind founding this program?
I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 9 years old, in July 1990. About 5 years ago, when I graduated college, my doctor kept having interventions we me about drinking and the complications diabetes can cause. I'd had a few seizures in high school, and several trips to the emergency room in college. So he sat me down in September 2004, and put it to me this way:
He said it's like you're climbing a cliff, and you've fallen off multiple times. Somehow you were lucky enough to hang on by your fingernails and scramble back up, but if you keep this up, someday soon you'll fall off completely and not be able to hold on anymore. That's when it finally clicked, and I decided to start eating right and taking better care of my diabetes.
I did have supportive friends and family but felt I always felt that it would have been extremely helpful to have had someone to talk to who really understood what we are going through.
Then I met Jonny Imerman, who founded ImermanAngels.org, a mentoring program for cancer survivors. I got inspired by his personal story; he batted cancer two times! His business model is connecting cancer fighters with cancer survivors, who are the living, walking, talking, proof that you can survive with this chronic illness. How useful for new fighters to talk with someone who's gone down the same road and made it! I thought his model could work in diabetic community as well, so I connected with Jonny. He's now on our Board of Directors and has become a good friend.
So how many people are involved in your organization? And how many patients are using the program now?
Currently, we are a brand new non-profit organization. We have a 3-person board, 5 key volunteers, about 10 diabetes guides, and are growing everyday! We are based in Chicago but want to take this nationwide and even global in the future. I personally have helped out 3 people so far and we've just launched our peer-to-peer connections on February 1st, 2010.
It's a nickname of mine from school and it kind of stuck for the last 5 years... I can't remember exactly how it got started, but I decided to name the organization that, because it also represents every 'normal person with diabetes' — it could be anyone. People really seem to like the name.
And this is your full-time gig now?
I incorporated 'Jimmy Insulin Inc.' in June of 2008, and I left my full-time job to devote time to it. I used to work in property management; I was on call 24/7, and had no flexibility. Since I left that, I actually worked four different jobs last year to pay the bills. I delivered pizzas every Friday for all of 2009... my girlfriend didn't like that too much (chuckles).
Right now I deliver for 15 CVS pharmacies in downtown Chicago part-time, and I also promote Jimmy Insulin through that work.
My hope is to build this up into a full-time gig, yes. Jonny with the Imerman Angels does it full time. It's 100% free to users so I'm going to have seek corporate sponsorships, etc., to get by. We hope to add 10 guides a month, so we'll have 100 by the end of the year, and then grow exponentially from there.
If you are non-profit, how do you raise money now?
We raise money by hosting fundraiser events throughout the year and through unsolicited donations. The events are usually parties at local venues where we charge about $25 at the door in exchange for free food and drinks. Then we hold silent auctions and sell T-shirts.
We had an event like that in July, 2009, and a World Diabetes Day party in November, 2009. That one was catered at a buddy's office, and the food and drinks were donated, so all the profits went to our organization.
Our next event is coming up Tuesday, March 2nd, at a place called the Bull & Bear in Chicago. The chef will be making a special appetizer menu that's all diabetic friendly, and we'll pass out cards with the carb counts and calorie counts noted — even the carb counts for the different beers. I'm big on that because I remember all these parties in college, where I always felt in trouble when the food was served — too many deep-fried items, too much starchy stuff. Anyone interested in attending can purchase advance tickets at this link.
Anything else special you'd like the community to know?
One of our goals is to partner with all the diabetes organizations out there, so we can touch as many people as possible. So anyone interested should feel free to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.