Katama Eastman experienced it once with her daughter ten years ago, and that is why she and her family – husband Jay, sons, Jack, Oliver, and Otis, and Merrill, now 15, are coming back – as the Chair Family for JDRF 2019 Children’s Congress.
Together, they will lead 165 youth Delegates from all 50 states, as well as five countries, to speak to Congress in Washington, D.C. this July. This group of advocates will give a face to T1D, and they will speak to the importance of continued funding for research, and request that Congress support policy that makes life better for the T1D community.
“We walk into these offices and they all tell us ‘we are so happy to see you, please keep reminding us how important this is.’”
Katama’s daughter, Merrill was diagnosed with T1D when she was 15 months old, and then at age 6, was selected to serve as a Children’s Congress Delegate. “Before Merrill was selected as a Delegate, we were a family committed to volunteering with JDRF, pleased to support our Chapter behind the scenes, and through fundraising. Having the incredible opportunity to meet with our Members of Congress in Washington, we saw first-hand that we are making a difference. They hear us, and they need to keep hearing us.”
Children’s Congress is a cornerstone in a much broader JDRF Advocacy effort, which in 2018 helped to secure an additional $300 million from the Federal Government for T1D research to be used over two years.
“At Children’s Congress there is something so powerful in seeing all these kids in their matching blue t-shirts, and with their devices proudly displayed,” Katama said. “They are all together, all affected by the same disease. Often, they can feel alone, separated, different. Here, they see that they are not alone, and here, they feel the power of their message, and the power of being heard.”
This year, nearly 1,000 youth applied to be Delegates. Katama said she wishes each of them could attend. “Each (Delegate) highlights their disease as a way to reach out, to help others, whether to someone who is struggling economically, emotionally, physically – they reach out and provide support.” It is their level of empathy and engagement that really “touches” Congressional leadership, she said. “There is a special energy that the kids bring with them, and it is powerful.”
Katama and her family are active JDRF volunteers, attending 11 Promise Balls and hosting an active walk team called Punkin’s Peeps for 14 years. Katama and her husband also co-chair the advisory committee at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center in New York City, and are donors to the JDRF T1D fund as well. Katama is also the current Board President for the JDRF New York City / Long Island Chapter. When they are not supporting JDRF, the family is outdoors, skiing, hiking, camping, golfing, and biking.