By Harold Gwin
The founder of a diabetes club said children with the disease need someone to talk to about their concerns.
YOUNGSTOWN — “The bad thing is I have low blood sugar and can’t eat much. The good thing is I have new friends,” said Eric Gutierrez, a third-grader at Taft Elementary School.
“I learned to be healthy with a lot of sleep and exercise and to take care of myself,” said Faith Nardone, a Taft fifth-grader.
The two were talking about their membership in the Taft Elementary Diabetes Club, an education and support group created this year by Annie Hunter, a fourth-grade teacher with 27 years of service in the district and a diabetic herself.
Hunter said the idea for creating a club for children came to her after she witnessed an elementary school girl having her blood sugar tested in the office of school nurse Jill Zinger.
Hunter recalled that she told Zinger that some sort of club or support group should be created to provide assistance to children with juvenile diabetes. It was Zinger, she said, who suggested that she take up the cause herself.
The more she thought about it, the better the idea sounded, Hunter said, adding that she wrote up a club proposal and presented it to Michael Schubert, Taft’s principal.
“I thought it was fantastic,” Schubert said, noting that much of the club’s focus is on nutrition and eating right to control the disease.
The school contacted the parents of children at Taft known to have been diagnosed with diabetes and asked for permission for their children to join the club.
“They were very receptive to it,” Hunter said.
The National Diabetes Education Program estimates there are 177,000 people under the age of 20 in the United States who have diabetes.
“I wanted to offer support to the children who have diabetes,” Hunter said. The club gives them someone to share their concerns with, she said, explaining that sometimes their classmates just don’t understand why they can’t eat a cookie or a cupcake.
“I’m a diabetic. I am learning more about taking care of myself from the children than they are learning from me,” Hunter said, explaining that the club members are very knowledgeable about the disease and what dietary limitations they must impose on themselves.
Their parents are on top of things in terms of keeping their children informed, she said.
The club, which meets every two weeks, has five pupil members. In addition to Eric and Faith, Skylar Barcley, a second-grader, and sisters Tanesha Bryant, a first-grader, and Ta’Andrea Bowers, a fourth-grader, are members.
Tanesha has diabetes but Ta’Andrea doesn’t. She joined the club out of support for her younger sister and her teachers say she keeps a careful watch over her sibling.
There are also two teacher members besides Hunter. Hope Golubich a second-grade teacher, and Cheryl Thompson, the school’s inclusion specialist, have family members with diabetes and asked to join, Hunter said, adding that the children voted to accept them into membership.
The club held its first parents’ luncheon last week, with the children inviting parents, grandparents and their teachers to the event.
Juanita Yohman, grandmother to Tanesha and Ta’Andrea, likes the idea of a club. Her granddaughters’ involvement in the program has “helped me pick out different groceries now,” she said.
“I think it’s good. I’ve learned a couple of things today,” she said after the luncheon.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Toma Barcley, Skylar’s grandmother, said of the club. “They get to know they’re not alone and (they) have someone to talk to. Skylar is happy to be involved.”