National Youth Advocate
Meet Heather Berg, our 2013 National Youth Advocate.
Heather was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 10 years old.
Her earliest experience with the disease, however, came a year and a half earlier when her younger brother was diagnosed with diabetes at only 14 months old. While she and her brother were very young when they were first diagnosed, the fight to Stop Diabetes was more than a movement to Heather and her family — it was a mission.
Heather has been a part of the local American Diabetes Association teen advocacy program since 2008 and has attended Diabetes Day at the Capitol every year since. At the yearly event, she has had the opportunity to meet with many of her state senators and representatives to speak with them about issues concerning the Association and our mission.
Heather has also been active in her community since grade school, raising both awareness and funds through school-wide activities.
She recently hosted a "Stop Diabetes" fundraiser at her high school where students gave donations to the Association in exchange for the privilege of wearing jeans for a day.
Outside of school she also volunteers at as many local Association family events as she can. She's very fond of her local Association chapter and says, "The friends that I have made with my involvement in the Association are all such fantastic people, and my friendships with all of them will last a lifetime."
Heather will continue to meet with elected officials this year in her new role as National Youth Advocate, urging them to increase funding for diabetes research and prevention.
She will travel and speak nationwide with an emphasis on the Association's Safe at School campaign advocating for students with diabetes to have the diabetes care required to create safe and equal opportunities to learn and participate in a total-school experience.
- Age: 18
- Location: Kent, Washington
- Activities/Clubs: Cheerleading, Healthy Living club, Spanish Honors Society, church volunteer
- Hobbies: reading, writing, Instagramming, Facebooking, movie-watching,
- Favorite Quote: "If you believe in something, believe in it all the way" –Walt Disney
Heather Berg's Blog
October 29, 2013
I've had a busy start to the school year and I can't be more excited. College life is a blast, and it’s a great opportunity to spread awareness in a brand new environment. I've just finished my first month of school and I've made so many new friends as well as connections in the health center. In addition to school stuff, I've been busy working on the American Diabetes Association's Step Out for a Cure campaign! Just a couple weeks ago, I went on the radio with a bunch of different radio hosts across the nation to talk about Step Out. It was a great experience to be interviewed by those radio personalities about why Step Out is so much fun and so important for people to participate in. You know over $24 million has been raised to support the mission to prevent and cure diabetes through Step Out in the past and that money is raised and represented by the over 120,000 walkers and participants across the U.S? That kind of support is absolutely amazing to me. It's so great to think that so many people support such a noble cause that is so close to my heart. I've volunteered with Step Out in the past and I've raised money with my family but there's nothing quite as moving as walking with fellow red striders through the finish line and seeing the many other walkers who are also living with diabetes. There are so many of us out there, in our local communities and across the nation, and an event like Step Out is a great way to see the sheer number of people affected by the disease and who care about finding a cure.
Besides being a red strider and my personal experience with the campaign, I talked a little bit about what it's like being the 2013 NYA and my experience living with the disease. I'm going on ten years living with diabetes now and it was a really great feeling to share my story and urge listeners to get involved; awareness brings us one step closer to finding a cure. We talked about the deadly consequences that can come with poorly treated diabetes, something I never enjoy discussing because it's the scary truth, and I mentioned the staggering statistics for people living with diabetes nationally and locally. Did you know that today there are nearly 26 million people living with diabetes in the United States? That number is so amazing to me; it's proof if you need any more that you are definitely not alone in your struggle with the disease. There are a lot of us out there who are searching and working towards a cure.
With that said, Step Out season is in full swing! I'm going to be volunteering and walking at my local walk in Seattle, WA in a couple weeks! I'm very excited to see my friends from the local Association chapter whom I haven't seen all summer; it'll be a reunion of all us kids with diabetes. Check out diabetes.org/stepout to find your local walk and get involved! Step Out is so much fun to be a part of. There's always fun to be had before and after the walk, and walking is much more fun to do with friends. You can go at your own pace and your own distance; typically there's a 2 mile option as well as a 4 mile walk to participate in but there's always other options and the routes are flexible. There are often games at various booths at the finish line with prizes to be won and information to gather about local programs dealing with diabetes management and research- and, of course, free snacks. Step Out is such a great campaign to be a part of and I'm having a blast with the radio interviews. I’ll also spoke the next Tuesday to raise awareness of local Step Out walks all over the U.S!
Next month I'm going to Nashville to participate in the National Committee Meetings so I'll check in with you guys and let you know what I learn! Can you believe in 3 months there will be a new National Youth Advocate blogging?
August 24, 2013
Summer's coming to a close and that means that school's getting ready to start back up. I don't know about you but as a college freshman I am super excited to start studying at my new school! With school starting there's a little more preparation we as people living with diabetes have to cover, and because I'm on my own this year I've learned how much work goes into setting up a safe environment at school. It's super important that everyone, whether on an insulin pump or taking injections, has a plan set up for their diabetes care in school.
Some of us have it easier than others. While on vacation with a group of friends a while ago I met a little girl in line for a ride next to me and she noticed me checking my blood sugar. We chatted for a bit about diabetes and the topic of school came up. She was going into fifth grade and was very excited to be starting school soon, but her mom told me that she was having trouble setting up a Parent Designated Adult in school to help her daughter administer insulin. The mom and daughter live in California – the site of the Association's latest Safe at School victory! I told her all about the Safe at School campaign that the Association heads up and how to utilize the resources it offers. When I spoke with her, the California victory had not happened yet so I'm very hopeful that she has an easier time talking to her daughter's teachers and school staff now.
With that being said, everybody encounters a bump in the road every once in a while, especially when dealing with diabetes. It's very important that you have the resources in school to help you properly take care of your diabetes and that's why Safe at School is in place. Make sure before you go to class that you have a 504 plan in place to ensure everything's in place before that first day. Talk to your teachers. Whether you've had diabetes for a few months or a few years, it's super important that the school staff is aware of your diabetes and how to take care of you should an emergency arise.
On the topic of being Safe at School, I’m now in the process of packing up and getting ready to move into my dorm room. It's crazy the amount of medical supplies that are taking over my packing boxes! I also am making sure to talk to the medical providers on staff about my 504 plan (modified for a college student, of course,) and explaining to my roommate what diabetes is and how she should handle an emergency situation in case I go low in the middle of the night. It’s a totally different experience preparing for college than it was getting ready for middle school or high school!
Although it's a bit sad that summer's almost over already, I hope everyone had a fabulous vacation and is rearing to go start this school year off with a bang.
July 31, 2013
Hi everyone! It's been a while, but I have a bunch of exciting things to share with you about my summer so far! I just got back from an amazing week in beautiful Orlando, Florida for the 2013 Children with Diabetes Friends for Life Conference. I learned about many new and exciting projects that the diabetes world is working on to improve the lives of everyone affected by and living with diabetes. In addition to tons of great information about improving my personal diabetes care, I met many amazing people and made a bunch of new friends.
I got in to Orlando the afternoon of July 8th and spent the remainder of the day checking out Downtown Disney before the sessions started on Tuesday. On the 9th my family got registered and signed up for all of our sessions and then we were off to Epcot to travel the world- and take a trip to Mars. Wednesday was spent listening in on a couple of really interesting brainstorming sessions on upcoming artificial pancreas projects and whatnot, as well as a Teen Icebreakers session where I met even more amazing people. I also got to look around the Exposition Hall where they had all kinds of fun activities to do! I had fun exploring while I wasn't at the American Diabetes Association booth handing out stickers and telling everyone about how to apply to become the 2014 National Youth Advocate- can you believe that applications are already being accepted?
On day two of the sessions I learned about leadership, got to hear about a ton of other new technology updates, and talked about how to raise my parents- that was my favorite. That night was the Family and Friends Banquet where we all got dressed up and had a blast dancing and getting pictures with all of the princesses. I made sure to get one with another Cinderella look-alike as well.
On Friday I got to spend the day in Disney's Hollywood Studios with a great group of teens, going on Rockin' Rollercoaster and Star Tours as well as the Great Movie Ride and many more. We had a blast out in the sun and on our own, practicing all of the new tactics to deal with diabetes we had learned in our sessions a couple days before.
Saturday was another fun day spent meeting Goofy and Pluto at an ice-cream social and then spending the day with my family in Magic Kingdom- I had a blast exploring the new princess area of Fantasyland! That night I had dinner with my newfound friends and danced the night away at the Teen Dinner Dance, complete with a shiny white hummer and a Photo Booth! It was sad to say goodbye to all of the great people I had gotten to know over the week but I look forward to seeing them all again next summer!
So now I'm home for a few days before I head off to Illinois to visit a diabetes camp later this week. I had such a blast at FFL! I'll check in after I get back from camp and let you know all about my trip to Illinois!
May 7, 2013
I cannot believe it's May already, I feel like it was February just last week and now we’re heading into summer! I have been quite busy this past month with preparing for graduation (five weeks left, yay!) AND jet-setting to New York! Funnily enough, (because it was a comedy night ;)) Seinfeld was hosting a Stand-Up for a Cure event at Madison Square Garden a couple of weeks ago to benefit the Association and I was invited to speak at the opening of the night! Needless to say I was ecstatic to have been invited and my dad and I eagerly hopped on a plane after school Tuesday to fly into Newark. We got in late that night to our hotel and spent the whole next day touring around Times Square taking in the sights. Being the Instagram-crazy teenager I am, I posted pictures every few hours of what I was seeing and who I was meeting on my NYA Facebook page throughout the day. The first taste of NYC I had was on our bus ride into the city when I caught a glimpse of Carlos' Bakery van (from Cake Boss) and I just had to Snapchat all of my friends because I thought it was the coolest thing.
To fully appreciate the experience of being in the Big Apple-a place I've only had the privilege of visiting once before- my dad and I chowed down on hot dogs and coffee throughout the day. I felt like Alice in Wonderland walking around the big city; there was so much to see! That afternoon my dad and I were able to catch Spider-Man: Turn off the Darkness on Broadway and I was floored by how amazing the performance was. After taking in what we could on a beautiful sunny day in the city, my dad and I made our way over to the pre-party for the event. I was greeted at the door with a bracelet as a party favor and my dad and I milled around and made friends with Larry Housner's daughter and wife. (Larry is the CEO of the American Diabetes Association.)
There was a band playing called "The Last Royals," a group I had never heard of, but the music was great and the place had a really cool vibe. After eating some hors d’oeuvres and meeting a few of the staff members of the Association from New York, a big group of us made our way over to Madison Square Garden. There was a photo spot as we entered into the theatre with "American Diabetes Association" sprawled across the backdrop, and there was a huge line of people waiting to get their picture taken in front of it. I was told there were a couple Real Housewives of New York who had RSVPd for the event that night so I kept trying to sneak a glance at the New York A-listers in line to see if I recognized anyone. As soon as we made it through the bag check we made our way back stage. Now I've had my share of school play performances, but the equipment they had behind the stage at MSG was high-tech. There were maybe twenty screens all displaying the camera on stage from different angles. I felt like I was behind the scenes on some TV show!
Larry and I waited patiently backstage as everyone filed in to their seats and I made friends with a few of the younger folks backstage with me. To represent the epidemic-like numbers of people diagnosed with diabetes in the United States, Larry had 17 people living with diabetes walk on stage behind him as he spoke - the number of people diagnosed with diabetes every minute. Right before I went on one of the staff members came up to me, wished me good luck and whispered "It's almost a full house- 5,800 people!" My heart pretty much stopped for a good thirty seconds before she urged me on and I walked on stage. Once I was out there, though, I couldn’t even see anyone past the front row so I wasn't so terrified of speaking to so many people.
After Larry and I thanked both Jerry Seinfeld and Colin Quinn for coming and performing at this event to benefit the American Diabetes Association, my dad and I went out into the crowd of people and found our seats. Seinfeld was amazing! I had never been to a stand-up comedy night before but I doubt anything I'll see in the future will top his performance. I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard!
I had such a fun night meeting and greeting people who had come to support the Association, and I received many compliments on my speech. It was an unforgettable experience and I had a blast!
April 10, 2013
Guess where I was Tuesday morning, April 10th? On the set of a news broadcast with Christy Johnson from King 5 News! I was so excited to be invited to talk a little about our local diabetes EXPO on the news. My mom and I woke up at the crack of dawn (actually, the sun hadn't even begun to come up yet) to drive to Swedish Hospital to meet the news crew there. Now, I hadn't put much thought into news broadcasting as a career, but the experience was so much fun that I might be switching majors next fall! I sat with Christy and a nurse at the hospital along with a man who was representing type 2 diabetes on the news segment and we talked about our stories and what we were going to be saying on TV. Then all of a sudden we were LIVE on camera and Christy was asking me all about what diabetes meant to me and what was important to know about the disease. It was nerve-wracking having never done anything like that before, but so much fun! I helped Christy check her blood sugar on camera and we talked about the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, stressing over and over the importance of getting tested for prediabetes and coming out to our local EXPO. It was a wonderful tie in to Diabetes Alert Day not so long ago as well. When I got to school after we had wrapped up all of the filming I was so excited to tell all of my teachers to watch the noon broadcast, because I'd be on the TV! Even a few people walked up to me in the halls to tell me they had seen me that morning; I felt like a super star. What was even more awesome about the experience though was how REAL the information was that Christy helped us share on the news that morning. Along with promoting EXPO and getting tested for prediabetes, we were able to talk about the epidemic that diabetes has become in the United States and the importance of education and awareness about the disease in our society. It was such a great way to reach out to my community to make them aware.
Speaking of advocacy, I got back from the advocacy committee meetings a couple weeks ago after a very busy weekend with my cheer squad (we placed 3rd at our state competition! Yay!) I had the opportunity to sit in on the Youth Strategies meeting, as well as meet the former NYA Amy Johnson and participate in the National Committee meeting where we discussed advocacy and all sorts of fun stuff. There are so many exciting things coming up in the diabetes community and so many opportunities to speak out about diabetes awareness, I can hardly wait! Next week I'm off to New York to talk about the Stop Diabetes movement at a comedy event in Madison Square Garden, and this week I'm talking at our local diabetes EXPO about the Safe at School campaign!
Busy, busy! I'll check in again and tell you all about my trip to the Big Apple!
April 4, 2013
A couple of weeks ago I visited my local state Capitol in Olympia, Washington for our state's annual Diabetes Day at the Capitol on March 11, 2013. This event is one of my favorites that the Association puts on every year. In fact, this event inspired me to apply for the NYA position from the get-go! Needless to say, I was very excited to be participating again this spring. I went down a day early with a few of my fellow Teen Advocates to work on leadership training and discuss upcoming local events with the Association staff. I was thrilled to have a number of my long-time friends from the Association there with me again. My favorite part of Diabetes Day at the Capitol is getting to see all of my friends from the Teen Leadership Council. Having just gotten back from Washington, D.C. for Call to Congress a few days before leaving again for Olympia, all of the issues and story-telling tools I had learned during my trip to the other Washington were conveniently fresh in my mind.
On Sunday the 10th, we spent the day going over what issues we would be discussing on Monday and how we could best represent the American Diabetes Association while in the Capitol building. I told all of the Leadership kids about what I had learned at Call to Congress and what an amazing experience it had been; something I had been telling my friends and family back home since the airplane touched back down in Seattle, WA :). We had a lot of fun getting to know each other a bit more and running through mock-meetings with one another.
On Monday, we walked back and forth between the three Capitol buildings, delivering information folders and meeting with legislators or staffers from their office. That morning I had the opportunity to speak in front of all of the Washington state advocates, telling them my diagnosis story and what my focus will be as NYA this year. Shortly after my talk, Governor Inslee came by to say a few words and I had the honor of talking with him briefly and expressing my thanks for his support—and getting a photo op of course :). I didn't have the opportunity to sit down and talk with any of my members personally, but I had great conversations with each of their staffers about how important diabetes care is and how vital government support is to a person living with diabetes. I also plan on setting up meetings with both my state senator and state representative a little closer to home.
The weekend was very productive and full of fun, as every Diabetes Day at the Capitol has been for me. I’ll check in again in a couple weeks to update you on everything going on with me!
March 14, 2013
My goodness was last week an amazing experience! My dad and I arrived back in Washington, D.C just in time for the storm alerts for Wednesday - we were going to have a whiteout at the White House! So I packed my snow boots and prepared for cold weather while we stayed in D.C for Call to Congress 2013. Tuesday afternoon I attended a series of training sessions where we talked about what type of buzz we needed to put in our legislators' ears the next day, as well as the importance of research and prevention for diabetes. As it turns, most of the snow we saw on Wednesday ended up in my hair and on my jacket. :) Snow turned to rain and the day was saved!
I started off our (very early) morning Wednesday by speaking to the Diabetes Advocates about the importance of our task that morning. I began by breaking the ice with a diabetes joke and of course talking to all of the advocates with me in D.C about why I was at Call to Congress and why our mission as Diabetes Advocates is so important to me. I brought it home by talking about how we all could and would make a difference at our meetings with legislators that day.
The walk in to the Senate and House buildings was an adventure in itself with the heavy winds and snow, but it was no less exciting once we got into the offices. I met with staffers from three offices – my representative and my two Senators. I also met with one or two other staffers of legislators from around Washington State. Although none of our meetings were with the Members themselves, I was able to get a photo-op with Derek Kilmer when he passed by in the hallway.
Speaking of photo-ops and chance encounters, I brushed elbows with tons of big-whigs and well-known congress people while navigating through the massive house and senate buildings, which was absolutely amazing. I'll admit I was a little star struck when Paul Ryan passed by me on my way to the elevator. I had a great group of advocates with me on several of my meetings from Washington State and we had a wonderful experience advocating for our cause - to Stop Diabetes - and informing the members of staff why it was important that our stories be heard.
After all of our meetings were done and we had made it through the madhouse of the cafeteria (only one of the cafeterias were open due to the threat of snow) all of us advocates made our way back to the hotel we were staying at and sat in on a couple of sessions talking about the new factsheet that had just been released on the cost of diabetes and the impact these numbers could have on our mission to Stop Diabetes. I listened to many compelling stories about people who've lived with diabetes nearly all their lives, parents of kids (and adults) with diabetes and brave children who weren't afraid to share their stories as well. Once the agenda for Wednesday was over, I went out to dinner with a number of advocates from around and near Washington and got to know them even better.
Thursday morning, before I headed back home to sleep and go to school the next morning, I had the privilege of hearing the success stories advocates shared from the day before and why they came to Call to Congress in the first place. I watched a beautiful slideshow of pictures and videos from all of the advocates in Washington, DC this week (hyperlink here) and got teary-eyed from the beautiful message it depicted and the many stories it told.
I got a little more teary-eyed as I heard more stories from advocates from all over the United States and was overwhelmed by the amount of support and strength I felt in the many people there in Washington, D.C. with me. After that emotional rollercoaster and unforgettable experience, my dad and I checked out a couple D.C sites and were headed home. To our great surprise and excitement Patty Murray, our Senator whom we were unable to meet with the day before, was on the same flight and I had the opportunity to get a picture with her and thank her for all of her support on The Association's federal asks.
In conclusion: wow. Even without the snow these past few days would have been an unforgettable experience, but the inclement weather and "snowquestering" we experienced there made it all the more memorable. Keep active in your communities raising awareness and support for diabetes research and prevention! We need as many hands as we can to Stop Diabetes. I'll check in again in a couple of weeks when I go back to D.C for the Advocacy Committee meetings!
February 19, 2013
Wow, have I had an eventful week!
I flew in to D.C. Monday morning (Feb. 11) and spent Tuesday learning the ins-and-outs of the Metro (subway) while sightseeing.
On Wednesday I toured the American Diabetes Association's Home Office (check out some photos here!) and met almost everyone on the team that I'll be working with the rest of the year. I was so impressed by who I met and the messages I'll be promoting.
The Association has a fantastic message about Stopping Diabetes and a great focus on Safe at School. Learning about the details of both those issues has gotten me so excited to be working with them! It's funny how little I knew when I thought I was a pro at diabetes.
Capitol Hill Reception
Wednesday night, after several meetings with several equally-awesome Association members, I had the opportunity to speak at a Capitol Hill Reception for the new legislators that Obama welcomed following his inauguration. I thanked everyone at the reception for attending and urged everyone to join the Diabetes Caucus if they hadn't already.
I also had the opportunity to mingle with those in attendance. Looking to be a Political Science major this coming fall, the reception experience was invaluable and unimaginable. I spoke with new legislators, previously elected Congressional representatives and Congressional staffers from all over the country.
Congressman Tom Reed from New York was in attendance and I had the privilege to speak with him for a bit about his experience with diabetes. His son, only a year older than my younger brother, has had type 1 diabetes since he was four years old so the Congressman was very sympathetic to our cause and well-educated on the issues we’ll be representing when I return to D.C. in a few weeks for Call to Congress.
I spoke with someone who was a former Association member about his experience with the Association and expressed how excited I was to be in D.C. and have the opportunity to return to the Capitol Hill on March sixth for Call to Congress.
Up Next: Call to Congress!
Things are very busy in the American Diabetes Association world as we all prepare for Call to Congress in just a few short weeks and I couldn’t be more excited!
I'll check in again when I'm back at the Capitol and let you in on the goings-on over in the other Washington (HA!)
February 7, 2013
Next week I'm off to the east coast to undergo orientation for the National Youth Advocate position and talk about everything I'll be doing this upcoming year! I am so excited to get to work on the Safe at School campaign and Stop Diabetes movement at the national level.
Going to private school since before I was diagnosed with diabetes, I have been very lucky to have an understanding and willing-to-learn staff at my school who work with me and allow me to self-manage my diabetes.
I am, unfortunately, very aware of the difficulties that some people face when trying to manage their diabetes care at school. Because of this, I am ecstatic about getting started on the Association's plans for education in the future. I'll check back in after orientation with the many things I've learned and how I’ll be involved this upcoming year!
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