Small Team, Big Results

Photography by Gary Baker


The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation chapter in Southwest Ohio might be a small relative to other local nonprofit organizations. The dedication of their volunteers and staff prove they can do big things when working together and taking care of each other as if they were family.

“In the past five years, we’ve grown fundraising revenues by nearly 30 percent,” says Melissa Newman, executive director. “And once again we are nationally positioned at the top of JDRF’s 100 chapters for fundraising performance based upon market size.”

Locally, JDRF Southwest Ohio also dominates. This year’s Cincinnatian of the Year Gala set a chapter record by raising nearly $1.5 million. Also, breaking records were the JDRF One Walk Kings Island with 7,000 participants and the Ride to Cure Diabetes cyling program, which just broke the national JDRF fundraising record for the second consecutive year.

“We also continue to rank first nationally in planned giving performance and, locally, our walk, ride and gala programs are among the biggest nonprofit fundraising events in those categories,” says Newman.

It seems that the secret is the passion of their volunteers and staff.

“The driving force behind JDRF volunteers is their will to stop at nothing to find a cure,” says Susan Mustian, president of the board. “They are utterly determined to work on behalf of their loved ones and family members with type 1 diabetes.”

Many of the volunteers have been active for decades and are steadfast to move forward towards JDRF’s goal to cure, treat and prevent type 1 diabetes.

“While we haven’t found the cure yet, we have made tremendous advancements in treatment therapies that go a long way with improving lives and minimizing complications,” says Newman. “I think it’s that sort of progress that keeps our volunteers motivated.

“We work hard to foster a culture of community and family. I think that sort of fun and nurturing environment makes the volunteer experience something everyone enjoys. We always say, ‘JDRF is the best family you never wanted to be a part of,’ and it’s such a true statement. We really are a family.”

The chapter has come a long way over the past several years in hosting notable events in order to raise money to fund research to find a cure for type 1 diabetes.

“When I first started in late 2011, we lost our biggest sponsor as they moved their company’s headquarters out of Cincinnati. It was a huge loss,” says Newman.

“We also had some organizational challenges which led to a long and difficult path to overcome a large number of obstacles. But thanks to the strength of our dedicated volunteers and staff team, we’re wrapping up yet another banner year.”

Of the many programs that have grown from this chapter, the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes stands out. It started as a small community ride in Blue Ash and has grown to a multi-million-dollar national fundraising program.

“I greatly enjoy all of our programs, but our Bourbon & Bowtie Bash is one of my favorites,” says Newman. “I love it because our team came up with the concept one day during an impromptu brainstorming session and it’s grown to become the hottest party in Cincinnati. It sells out months in advance every year.

“It draws in a lot of new people who have no connection to JDRF, which creates some opportunities for us to attract new volunteers. Because of its popularity, we’ve had to move it to the Duke Energy Convention Center in order to accommodate 1,500 guests.”

Another annual event is the Type One Nation Summit, a free community educational conference, held in the Sharonville Convention Center. The event is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and attracts more than 1,200 people.

“I enjoy this event because it draws in many people who are newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes who may be floundering and don’t know what to do or where to turn for help,” says Newman. “Giving those people a support network and resources they need to thrive is incredibly fulfilling.”

As a person living with type 1 diabetes, Mustian can relate to those who are forced to quickly learn how to cope.

“The most difficult part is the amount of mental and physical energy it requires to maintain my health, avoid or delay complications, and to literally stay alive,” Mustian says. “This is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And no two days seem to ever be alike.”

Even though the cure has yet to be found, exciting progress has been made in the last two years of research. A decade ago, JDRF had five projects in the human clinical trials stage and today there are 50.

“We really have seen incredible things come to fruition,” says Newman. “The artificial pancreas technology that allows an insulin pump to communicate with a continuous glucose monitor and predict blood glucose levels was approved by the FDA last year.

“Because of the efforts of JDRF, this cutting-edge technology will absolutely change the game in improving outcomes for people living with type 1 diabetes. JDRF could never have made this sort of remarkable progress without the fundraising activity and we greatly appreciate every single person who volunteered, donated or participated in one of our events.”

Previously labeled “juvenile diabetes,” type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that can develop in anyone regardless of age or lifestyle choices. Eighty percent of the type 1 diabetes population is adults and half of new diagnoses are also in adults.

“Type 1 diabetes is a chronic, life-threatening disease that can have devastating complications. While our end goal is finding a cure, we want to find new treatments to improve lives until then,” says Newman.

“Plus, it’s often misunderstood and is infuriatingly heartbreaking when I encounter those who say misguided things like ‘They should just eat less sugar and get some exercise’ or ‘Well, at least it’s not cancer!’ But because of conversations like these, we can use it as a teachable moment and build awareness.”

In order to continue to help people living with type 1 diabetes, JDRF is always looking to expand their family of volunteers.

“We welcome new volunteers regardless of whether or not they have a connection to the disease,” says Newman. “People can check out our website to learn about the various short- and long-term volunteer opportunities.

“The work of JDRF truly is life-saving and there’s honestly nothing that could be more fulfilling.”

JDRF Southwest Ohio is located at 8050 Hosbrook Road, Suite 314, Cincinnati, OH 45236. For more information, call 513.793.3223 or visit