TDS employees Robin, and Kevin Koppenhaver have just returned from Washington D.C. where their daughter Kim was a delegate in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) Children’s Congress. Robin described the experience as, “the chance of a lifetime”—and not just because they got to see famous stars including actress Jean Smart, Indy car racer Charlie Kimball, singer Crystal Bowersox, Olympic swimmer Gary Hall Jr., and basketball player Ray Allen.
The morning of the congressional hearing, the kids knew they were going to get their photo with a “special guest,” but had no idea who it would be. They were all gathered in the Hart Senate office building’s 9-story atrium and were quite excited when Vice President Biden arrived. Many children (including Kim!) had the chance to shake his hand and group picture was taken— much to the envy of the interns working at the building who were pressed against the glass on all the floors to catch a glimpse of Biden.
Robin said participating in a live legislative session was “amazing.” Hearing the stories from both famous and non-famous people was a very powerful and humanizing experience. Robin said, “What people shared reminded me that type 1 diabetes is an equal opportunity disease and that no one is immune. We are all part of the same diabetes family.” For example, Robin was touched by Ray Allen’s telling congress that he and his wife jokingly call themselves “vampires” for getting up at night to check their son’s blood sugar. Robin and Kevin have the same joke and the same process.
In addition to the legislative session, Robin said she loved meeting with the Wisconsin state senators. She felt like they truly cared, with each listening carefully to Kim and the other Wisconsin delegates. Sen. Ron Johnson even left late for a live radio interview to stay for an extra few minutes to take photos with the kids.
The entire experience, Robin said, pushed her out of her usual comfort zone but in a good way. She has been a JDRF fundraiser for years, but advocating wasn’t something she was entirely at ease with. By going to the Children’s Congress with Kim, Robin has gained a new perspective about advocacy and believes she will be more comfortable with that much-needed process moving forward. Likewise, Robin feels that Kim really matured in her advocacy and self-confidence. She said every time Kim sat down to make her case, she never hesitated to tell her story and didn’t need any prompting or guidance.
One more neat thing about attending Children’s Congress? Robin, Kevin and Kim were able to meet people who they had only known “virtually” through the JDRF before. In addition, connections made between the kids might just last a lifetime—Kim and her fellow Wisconsin delegates are already trying to organize a get together so they can see each other again.