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Volunteer spotlight – Jenny Clarke – February 2023

Jenny Clarke Spotlight photo

Jenny Clarke

There’s something quite magic about getting people who live with type 1 diabetes together in one room and getting them talking.

Meet our Volunteer Spotlight for February 2023, Jenny Clarke

Jenny has had type 1 diabetes for 33 years and has been a General Volunteer and Lead Volunteer at our Type 1 Events. She’s volunteered at both Family Weekenders and Summer Camps for almost 20 years and tells us why the events are so important to her, and about the difference they make to families living with type 1 diabetes.

How it all began

Jenny was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 11 years old, a month before she left junior school. She has always had the philosophy that she would never let her diabetes stop her from doing anything, and although she resented it at times, Jenny didn’t let it define her. “I remember aged 11, saying I’m not ‘a diabetic,’ I’m ‘a girl with diabetes.’”

Trying something new

As a young adult, working full time, Jenny decided to get involved in volunteering as a way to meet people and try something new. "My mum saw an advert in Balance Magazine, asking for volunteers for Type 1 Family Weekenders. As I was looking for activities outside of my work life, I decided to sign up and see what it was like.”

At that first event Jenny was paired with a four year old girl with diabetes. “I still think of her now. She was so smart and so funny and of course we bonded over having diabetes. It’s strange to think that now she would be almost the age I was when I met her!”

“One of the best things about that event, is what remains to be one of the best things about every event I’ve ever been on: meeting children who are new to diabetes, and the look in their eye when they realise that most people on the event also have diabetes. You take out your blood testing kit, your pen or your pump, and it’s mind-boggling for them. Suddenly they realise they aren’t on their own – it’s always a brilliant moment.”

In the run up to the weekend Jenny had been nervous, because she hadn’t known what to expect, but that didn’t last long. “From the moment I arrived, I felt really comfortable. There was something special about meeting other volunteers with type 1, who felt the same way as me about diabetes, the good stuff and the bad. I met people on that first weekend that I’m still good friends with today.”

“Ultimately it was great to feel like I was helping to give to children and their families what I had actually needed when I was first diagnosed. It was a really cathartic experience, as well as being fun – and absolutely exhausting.”

The volunteer community

From that first event, Jenny was hooked, and she continued to volunteer at one or two Type 1 Events a year.
“One thing I hadn’t expected to come from the events was the excellent network of friends that I have made over the years. Being part of a community of volunteers is really special to me. I love how at events you meet people from a huge range of backgrounds, but through diabetes, we are all connected. Actually the connection is more than just diabetes – it’s our approach to diabetes, we tend to be people who have a positive outlook, and won’t let diabetes hold us back, and we want to help others when they’re having a tough time with it.”

Taking a break

In her early thirties Jenny got married and had two children three years apart, meaning she had to step back from events for a few years: “I wanted to carry on but felt I just couldn’t leave my babies. I was so torn, I really missed the events, and the sense of community they give me. Taking that break from events made me realise I don’t just love the events, I need them in my life. They’re so important, I believe they’ve actually formed part of who I am.”

“As soon as my children were old enough I went back to the events, and it was the most amazing thing, because although I really missed my kids, I was actually doing something for myself again. The event reinvigorated my ability to deal with my diabetes day-to-day.”

Highlights and Achievements

In the last few years Jenny has gone from helping on the Children’s Programme to being part of the Parents’ Programme, and more recently she stepped into the role of Parents’ Programme Lead Volunteer. In this role she works with the Type 1 Events staff team to plan and deliver the timetable of sessions.

“Making the jump from being with the children to being with the parents felt like a big deal, it’s quite a different role. But it was great. As a parent myself, I can relate to the parents’ concerns and worries, and having grown up with type 1 I hope I can help them see that what their children are facing isn’t insurmountable. On the Parents’ Programme we aim to give people the space to address their deepest fears, and air their biggest frustrations, whilst giving practical tools and offering hope.”

“It’s so nice to see the transformation of the parents over the weekend. Often when they arrive on the Friday they’re quite stressed – maybe worried about the diabetes, and nervous about letting their child go with people they don’t know – then they meet the other parents, and in just a few short hours, they’re opening up, laughing, relaxed. It’s such a brilliant thing to witness.”

“It felt like such an honour to be asked to run the Parents’ Programme. Having been part of the Weekenders for so long, I’ve seen lots of brilliant leaders over the years. My focus was to put the parents and volunteers at ease and to weave in lots of important, positive messages. Being trusted to deliver a Weekender – and then feeling like it had gone really well – that’s one of my biggest personal achievements.”

Looking to the future

Jenny intends to continue volunteering in different roles at the events.
“Having done a bit of everything, I’m very happy just slotting in and doing what’s needed, whether that’s leading, working with the parents or simply playing games with the children. All of the roles can make a difference to someone. I intend to carry on because I have seen time and again the benefit of the events to children and their families.”

And to anyone who’s thinking of volunteering, Jenny recommends they give it a go.
“If you are considering volunteering at a weekend, just go for it. Every event is a great experience. There’s something quite magic about getting people who live with type 1 diabetes together in one room and getting them talking.

“Diabetes can be a solitary condition, it’s hard work, relentless, frustrating – if you have a chance to meet a group of people who share your experience, it can only be beneficial. At Diabetes UK Family Weekenders you meet new people and you learn new things. I’ve made some of my best friends through volunteering. It’s still the highlight of my year, doing the Weekenders.”

If you’ve been inspired by Jenny’s story, find out how you can volunteer with Type 1 Events.

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