The nurse’s office at Minooka Junior High is a frequent meeting place for a special group of kids. The “club,” if you will, is not one that kids would aspire to be a part of.
All seven of its members, students at Minooka Junior High, are diabetics. All but one is on the insulin pump. While they didn’t choose to be a part of the group, they are learning to deal with their disease with the help and friendship of each other and school nurse, Martha Heun, R.N.
“One reason I enjoy having diabetes is we wouldn’t know each other and have fun together if I didn’t,” said Abbie Belluomini.
When Kaylee Kopriva came to Minooka Junior High School, it was Belluomini and Nick Troska who helped her get adjusted to her new surroundings and made her feel like one of the group, she said.
Heun sees these students several times a day when they pop in to test their blood sugar or need help with highs or lows.
“There have been days we have had several of them in here all day long,” said Heun.
It was in Heun’s office that the idea was hatched to participate in Diabetes Awareness Month last November.
“I was in here testing my blood sugar one day,” said Belluomini. “Mrs. Heun pulled up an e-ail from the American Diabetes Association (ADA).”
They both thought it would be a great idea to get the students and the school involved. Heun found a bunch of fun stuff they could do.
“We met in study hall and all thought of some ideas, and it became Penny Wars,” said C.J. Moody.
The idea behind Penny Wars is that all students and faculty participate by putting pennies in their team’s jar. Since Minooka Junior High is already divided into 14 teams for other school activities, they kept the same school teams.
The more money each team collected meant more money being donated to the American Diabetes Association. But there’s one catch in the war against teams: any other coin except a penny is counted against that team’s amount. A nickel, for instance, would be five cents subtracted from their total.
Of course all money would go to the ADA, but the war between the teams was on.
“People kept sabotaging other teams, putting in quarters,” Belluomini said.
The seven students also created posters to hang around the school; they made tie-dyed t-shirts and gave facts about diabetes during daily announcements for a week — all to bring about awareness of the disease.
In the end, the group collected $1,275 dollars, which will be donated to the ADA for research. The students had the choice of donating the proceeds to help fund diabetes camp or research; they chose the latter.
“It gives us a hope we can find a cure someday,” said Lauren Gallacher.
They all appear to have accepted diabetes as part of their lives, but it can be tough to deal with their peers and sometimes their own family members.
There are times when they are teased about having diabetes or have it held against them, said one student.
“If your blood sugar is high and you can’t eat, they will tease you about it with food,” said Kaylee Kopriva.
What really annoys most of the students is when people treat them like babies, they all agreed.
Whatever they are eating, someone inevitably asks if they should be having that.
“I know what I can eat and what I can’t eat,” said Moody. “I tell my friends and they still ask.”
Some of the students aren’t sure if their peers have a better understanding of diabetes or not since the campaign.
“A lot of people stopped in the halls to look at posters, so I know they are getting something from it,” Belluomini said. “I know some people cared.”
Whether or not their peers do understand them better, this group of kids made a difference for themselves and others living with diabetes.
“I am really proud of what we did,” Belluomini said, “and all the money that went for research.”