At age 25, more than 30 years ago, Sharon Axelberg learned she had juvenile diabetes. Two years ago, her great-niece, a sophomore at South Lenoir High School, received the same diagnosis. Another great-niece, age 8, is also a juvenile diabetic.
With Axelberg, diabetes is personal.
“It’s very near and dear to my heart,” she said.
Even when the diabetes patients aren’t part of her family.
Axelberg has used her position as president of the Kinston Host Lions Club to draw attention to diabetes – the No. 1 cause of blindness, historically an emphasis of Lions’ community service – and to alleviate its impact on families. With the unexpected success of a fundraiser last March, Axelberg and the club have extended their assistance to the children in Lenoir County Public Schools who are juvenile diabetics.
The club recently donated a $100 gift card to each of the school district’s seven nurses, who are often called upon to assist diabetic students, especially when their blood sugar drops to a dangerous level, or “goes low.”
“It happens a lot,” said Amy Taylor, an exceptional children’s teacher at Pink Hill Elementary School and Axelberg’s niece. “We had one student at our school that when his blood sugar would go low the teacher or the nurse would go out and buy snacks. They were having to provide for him. That’s part of the reason we were inspired to help.”
What enabled the Lions Club to help was a goal-busting fundraiser, the Strides Rock ’n’ Walk-a-Thon held at the Woodmen Community Center. “We thought we might raise $5,000,” Axelberg said. The event raised $14,000.
Half of those proceeds went for scholarships to send 17 youngsters, including three LCPS students, to a camp for juvenile diabetics in Beaufort County this past summer. The other half “we wanted to use to help diabetes patients” with supplies and medicine, Axelberg said.
“We’re trying to create more outreach for these kids because it is a very expensive disease, and we know they need a lot of help,” said Taylor, who was a member of the committee that organized the fundraiser, along with her daughter Avery, the South Lenoir sophomore. “The $14,000 exceeded what we expected this year, so it’s opened us up to helping in other ways.”
The gift cards will take some pressure off the school district’s nurses, according to lead nurse Nicole Sugg. “We have children who come to school without supplies, without the food to support them when they go low,” Sugg said. “So nurses are having to go out of their pocket to provide for these children. The gift cards are going to give us the ability to have the funds to actually provide the snacks and juices the students don’t have.”
Kinston Host Lions Club will also provide money – up to $400 a year per person – to people with juvenile diabetes or Type 2 diabetes who are approved through an application process. “We just got the form ready for patients to get supplies and medicine if they need it,” Axelberg said.
School nurses will have that form to give to parents of the children they assist at school. That’s part of a newly formed alliance, according to Sugg. “The connection with the nurses is being able to identify these children and connect them with the Lions Club,” she said.
Axelberg sees the connection as ongoing. “Hopefully, we will be able to do this twice a year,” she said of the gift cards. “It just depends on how many people ask for our assistance.”
The club is already planning its second Strides Rock ’n’ Walk-a-Thon for March 24, again to raise money to assist juvenile diabetes and Type 2 diabetes patients. “We have gotten very involved with diabetes and I just want to continue to do that,” Axelberg said.
That’s encouraging to LCPS’s school nurses. “The nurses are just so appreciative that the Lions Club is so generous to donate money to us to help our diabetics,” Sugg said.