With National Diabetes Awareness week on July 14th to 20th, we took this opportunity to highlight the incredible journey of Rebecca Johnson. Founder and CEO of the Type 1 Diabetes Family Centre and only Australian to be accepted into the global Facebook Community Leadership Program, receiving an award of $50,000 to fund her initiatives. Here, she shares her story with The Carousel.
When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age seventeen, there were no community support services available to help me and my family.
Type 1 diabetes is life-changing. One day I was a regular 17-year-old and the next I was learning to how to cope with the day-to-day challenges of an incredibly complex autoimmune disease: injecting insulin, testing my blood glucose, and counting the grams of carbohydrate in everything I ate.
As a family, we were completely overwhelmed by the diagnosis and it took an enormous toll on us as we struggled to deal with the reality of how our lives had changed.
Despite the challenges of my medical condition, I was always adamant that it wasn’t going to get in the way of my goals and the things I loved doing. In fact, it was my diagnosis with type 1 that ended up laying the foundation for my career to come.
In 2015, I co-founded the Type 1 Diabetes Family Centre in Western Australia, as I wanted to ensure families didn’t experience the lack of resources my family had.
Four years on, the centre is offering a rich program of services designed for the type 1 community, from nutrition workshops and education programs to social events and camps. We also offer allied healthcare: dietetics, diabetes education and psychology.
Looking at our achievements from the past year alone reminds me of how much impact we’ve had. We won the Outstanding Charity Award and the Australian Credentialled Diabetes Educator of the Year Award. We’re supporting over 1200 families, trained over 550 teachers and babysitters, had hundreds of attendees at this year’s events and camps and more than 150 people given access to insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring technology. We’ve even built and launched our very own online course called Cyber Carbs to educate people around carbohydrate counting. For a small not-for-profit without government funding, we’re kicking big goals.
I never want the Family Centre’s impact to be limited by distance, so we started an online community of parents of kids with type 1 and a separate group for adults in WA through Facebook. We now have more than 1250 people engaging across WA in two thriving Facebook communities – last month, the Family Centre’s groups had more than 10,500 engagements!
These groups have become hubs for information exchange and social support, and have opened my eyes to the power of social media in supporting those with challenging illnesses. The part I love most is seeing online connections turn into real-life friendships, when people meet through the Family Centre’s events and programs.
I didn’t anticipate that our Facebook groups would open doors professionally, however last year I was accepted as the only Australian into Facebook’s Community Leadership Program, which recognizes people who are making positive social change. Facebook selected 100 people from around the world to be Fellows of the program, and it has been a truly remarkable experience to learn, grow and feel part of a community of leaders who want to make the world a better place to live in.
In terms of what’s next, I would love to see our community and our services expand, both on and offline to ensure we’re providing the type 1 community with the kind of support it deserves.
Many thanks to Rebecca Johnson for her story.