We always love unique approaches to diabetes advocacy.
This one comes from a northern Wisconsin family that didn't waste any time embracing advocacy right after their tween daughter Anja was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in October 2013. On top of all the learning and adjusting they had to do, the Busse Family managed to quickly create and launch two initiatives to make a difference for people with diabetes.
Anja is the force behind both of these efforts:
First, just a few months after her diagnosis, she started a campaign to get the American Girl doll makers to add diabetes gear to their doll accessories; thousands have already signed the Change.org petition to American Girl in support.
And something called the Boxes of Joy program, that are kind of like welcome baskets sent out to families with a newly diagnosed child to bring a little happiness to the experience.
Honestly, we couldn't think of a better family than the Busse's (starring Anja, of course!) to be featured in our ongoing Amazing Diabetes Advocates series. Without further ado, here's D-Mom Ingrid Busse to tell us more about her family's story and what they're up to these days.
DM) Ingrid, can you start by telling us about Anja's diagnosis?
IB) Our daughter Anja is now 13 years old, and was diagnosed less than two years ago, on Oct. 8, 2013. Anja has three younger brothers and no one in our immediate family had type 1, so at the time of her diagnosis she was the only one in the family. But Anja's second cousin just got diagnosed with it this year.
We went to a wedding in Colorado for a week in 2013. All week long Anja was complaining that her stomach hurt, going to the bathroom a lot, drinking a lot (we didn't think anything of that since we were in the mountains and everyone was drinking a lot), and was really cranky. By the end of the week, she had lost over 20 pounds. When we got back home we took her to the doctor, where they said she had sugar in her urine and that we needed to go the hospital right away. She was admitted into the hospital with a blood sugar level of 900.
What motivated her/your family to start the American Doll accessory push?
It all began with the petition my daughter started. Since American Girl already had similar products like hearing aids, service dogs, wheelchairs, glasses, braces, and a food allergy set with an allergy shot, Anja thought diabetic accessories would fit in great with the AG brand. She didn't want a special doll… just the accessories like a blood glucose meter, glucagon, and an insulin shot.
Here's Anja's video asking American Girl to create these new D-friendly accessories, and more than 4,000 people are supporting the idea!
Did you reach out and hear anything from American Girl on this?
We have reached out, and even offered to purchase large quantities (of the new accessories) to put in our boxes and donate to hospitals so that newly diagnosed children had something to take home that they could use with their favorite doll/stuffed animal. One newspaper reporter did get in contact with American Girl and got a polite, 'we don't do that' response.
And how did the Boxes of Joy idea get started?
We're just launching that now. We plan to send out our first 5 boxes in the next couple of weeks and expect the program to quickly grow.
The idea came after we started the American Girl campaign, as we started getting lots of emails and messages from people who thought Anja's petition was a great idea. They shared heartbreaking stories about how they or a loved one really struggled with type 1 diabetes and how alone they felt. When we read these messages and found out that diabetics were 50% more likely to suffer from depression, we felt we had to do something even if it was in a small way. That's when the idea for our non-profit organization Boxes of Joy began.
Every child loves getting mail. We wanted to send boxes to kids who were having a tough time and just needed a little encouragement. We wanted to let them know that they are not alone. We didn't have enough money for boxes so we started with what we had. My daughter loves drawing. So we began by making homemade cards and sending them to type 1 diabetic children all over the world. We even sent one to Trinidad and Tobago and another to the Channel Islands. Anyone who wanted a card, we would send one too.
We had lots of recent requests from organizations, including sororities and support groups, all over the U.S. to make cards and even have card-making events.
So you've been making all these cards yourselves?
My daughter has been overwhelmed with requests, so we decided to ask people to help us to reach more kids and be able to offer not just one card, but many cards. For Diabetes Awareness Month in November, we started a grassroots campaign for people to make cards for a diabetic in their own life, which we called the Encourage a Diabetic Project. We got lots of interest from diabetics and non-diabetics alike, so we decided to expand it to an all-year project.
We are working with different organizations on having local card-making events, where people make cards for type 1 diabetic kids and send them to us. We were fortunate to have the Type 1 Diabetes Network Inc. take us under their wing. We are now an umbrella organization of them and are able to receive non-profit status.
Our goal is to make and send out as many cards and packages to type 1 diabetic kids.
What will go into the boxes, besides cards?
Every box comes with a stuffed animal, a medical alert necklace/zipper pull (which we make ourselves), an "I am thankful for" dry erase board so that the child can write down one thing that they are thankful for everyday (which we make ourselves too), a coin purse with a pick-me-up snack, a useful diabetic item (we want to encourage kids to take better care of themselves), and a couple of fun items/toys. Each box is different based on age and donations.
Is all of this more of a hobby, or are you looking to turn it into a business venture?
Right now we are doing this as a hobby. We are hoping to expand and in the next year possibly start selling some of the items we put in the packages, as well as care packages for kids in diabetes camp, college, etc. Proceeds from the sales will help us be able to send more packages and cards to kids. Anja has decided to be homeschooled this school year so we will be incorporating Boxes of Joy and diabetes advocacy into her curriculum.
Are you still pushing American Doll on the diabetes accessories?
We have not given up on our petition. We wanted to show American Girl that people really want to buy this product. We think it is an item even boys can use with their stuffed animals.
When and if these products become available, we plan on including them in as many of our boxes as we can so that T1D kids can have a doll or stuffed animal that is going through the same thing as them, and feel that they are not alone. We want American Girl to hear the same voices we hear so they know there are many who want this product and are willing to buy it.
So how are you now approaching the American Girl campaign?
We are asking people to send in two pictures -- one with a person holding a sign of how diabetes affects them or their loved one, friend, or colleague; the other with the same person holding a sign indicating a reason why American Girl should make diabetes accessories for their dolls. We'll be compiling these into a video, and we're hoping to get enough pictures to finish the video by the end of summer.
"It's Possible" music video by MJ2
(Editor's note: We've featured D-peep Mollie and her twin sister Jackie here at the 'Mine before, and we reached out recently about their song "It's Possible"; Mollie tells us it does actually have a diabetes empowerment theme at its core, and you can even see her Medtronic insulin pump multiple times during the music video!)
As if that weren't enough, is there anything else you are all doing, as far as diabetes activities and advocacy?
Actually, my husband and I are joining Anja for the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes in La Crosse, Wisconsin (running Aug. 13-16, 2015), where we will bike 100 miles through three states in one day to raise money for type 1 diabetes research. Our goal is to raise $8000.
Anja tries to advocate for diabetes programs and diabetics in whatever way she can. This winter she went to a town hall meeting with Congressman Sean Duffy. She told him about what it is like to be living with type 1 diabetes and asked him a question about diabetes legislation. She loves speaking and has spoken at our local diabetes support group and Boys and Girls Club. There are so many people who do not know the difference between type 1 and type 2, and she loves when she gets the opportunity to educate people.
Do we hear that she’s looking to start a blog in the Diabetes Online Community (DOC), too?
Yes, later this month she is going to be launching a blog for diabetic kids where she will write about life with diabetes, feature cool stories of diabetic kids/adults, do product and book reviews, etc. Every month she will choose one person to be a "blue wing hero," which is a diabetic who inspires others through their life.
They will get an award and a pair of blue Schwings to put on their shoes (they are wings you put on your shoelaces). She already has a few interviews with authors lined up, two products to review, and we have been working with Congressman Duffy's office to find a time for Anja to interview him about diabetes issues and the Diabetes Caucus, which he is a member of.
Wow, she's following in our footsteps there. You must be so very proud of Anja…
Of course! ;)
How can people get involved in these campaigns of yours?
If anyone is interested in making cards, receiving a card/package, or donating they can contact us by mail at:
Boxes of Joy, P.O. Box 298, Antigo, WI, 54409.
We are also really excited about the American Girl campaign, but could use some more pictures. If anyone wants to email us pictures they can send those to [email protected].
Great work, Busse family, and especially Anja. Know that you're definitely making a difference and "bringing some joy" to the Diabetes Community through everything you're doing!