It was originally called the Walk for the Cure until a cancer fundraising organization sent a letter to change the name. To the Foundation’s credit they thought changing the name was a better move than using donation money to fight the request resulting in what is now called the Walk to Cure Diabetes (a blessing in disguise).
In the early 90’s a group of chapters were gathered in a room and told that they would be the members of a new national program that could very well define the future of the organization known (at that time) as JDF (now JDRF).
It was the most exciting, incredible, costly, time-consuming, exhilarating, program one could ever imagine. There really was only one hugely successful ‘walkathon’ at that time and that was the March of Dimes. Other organization did walks but nothing could come close to the March of Dimes.
We huddled in meetings and discuss the challenges like, “we can never compete with the ADA (American Diabetes Association), as no one even knows who the JDF even is, who would come to a JDF Walk?” Yes, there was such a time.
We were assured that if we “did the program” to the letter, it would work. Over time the income would even out the costs. It did. It did not matter how many other different organizational walks there were out there, success was predicated upon ‘doing the program’ and doing the program ‘to the letter’.
In future years, where there were no chapters, walk managers were put in place. Walk Managers would become Chapter Directors. The program was not only successful, it is probably the singe-most-reason JDRF ended up on the map as strong as it did spreading across the country in a grass-roots effort like no other before or since. The family teams became as strong as the corporate teams, WHICH HAD NEVER HAPPENED IN A WALK OF THIS MAGNITUDE, EVER!
The army of volunteers was enormous, JDF would never look back.
This year it is expected that 900,000 people will walk at over 150 different walk sites and will add to the over 1 billion dollars raised thus far as cited here.
What people do not understand today is how hard it was in the beginning to accomplish the task at hand. I know because I was there as one of those original Chapter Directors in the early nineties.
The results were incredible and it grew the organization and allowed for funding to organizations actually doing the research like the cure focused Diabetes Research Institute, The Edmonton Protocol, and many, many more.
JDRF would grow that grass-roots army of volunteers into government relations, bike rides and letter writing campaigns. More families meant bigger golf tournaments and black tie galas. More involvement meant more money for research.
All of this, although surely helped by incredible volunteers, was under one man’s genius. He told me once that the real test of success is that the program is bigger than any one person and will continue long after any one person is involved. He was right,
He is no longer with the JDRF but he has moved on to create walks for Autism and Lupus and many other organizations as well. He is a firm believer that numbers do not lie and that success is only moving forward. SO as you tie your sneaker this year to walk, wherever you are walking, know this: you are doing so because of the single-minded genius who came from the March of Dimes to teach an organization how to Walk to Cure Diabetes.
He is Philadelphia’s own, Steve Leonard. The walk guru.
And he is Diabetesdad’s T.G.I.F. Take a bow Steve.