THE BLOG
04/09/2014 10:10 am ET Updated Jun 08, 2014

Celebrating Those Who Make a Difference

In 2012, our country established a well-deserved observance of National Volunteer Week by calling upon Americans to volunteer in service projects and pledge to make service a part of their daily lives. As we celebrate this week from April 6-12, 2014, we honor those who have selflessly dedicated themselves to being the driving force behind social change in our country.

National Volunteer Week is about recognizing and encouraging people to seek out innovative ways to engage in their communities. It's about taking action and showing that we can accomplish our goals and rise to any challenge -- if we do it together.

The American spirit of volunteerism is alive and well. An estimated 64.5 million Americans volunteered nearly 7.9 billion hours in 2012, which equates to nearly $175 billion, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service. In fact, one in four adult residents volunteered in 2012. And volunteering has grown more popular among those in Generation X over the past 11 years.

My volunteering began in 2002 when my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D). There's no worse fear for a parent than the possibility that your child may not wake up in the morning, and that became my family's reality with Sean's diagnosis. I became dedicated to learning about T1D, what was being done to treat and cure it and how I could personally join the fight.

I volunteered with JDRF, the leading global organization funding T1D research. Among our missions is funding for research on innovative therapies, such as the artificial pancreas, a system that automates delivery of insulin and removes the need for blood glucose testing. When, not if, the artificial pancreas becomes available, children like my son won't have to go through the daily stress -- for them and their families -- of continual finger pricks and testing.

Though I began as a volunteer while still working full-time, it didn't take long to envision the transformation into a role where I could fully dedicate myself to finding a cure for my son and the millions of others with T1D. In 2010, I was fortunate enough to become CEO of JDRF. In this role, I am working to ensure we are uncovering breakthrough treatments that will help everyone living with T1D and ultimately lead to the day when my son can be free of the disease.

But no one has to make a lifetime commitment to make a real difference. I see the spirit, and effectiveness, of volunteers every day at JDRF. Almost everyone who advocates on behalf of JDRF -- 300,000 people nationwide at last count, roughly the population of Tampa or Toledo -- is a volunteer. Of those, about 250,000 are personally connected to the cause, often as mothers and fathers of sons and daughters with T1D, but also as grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and cousins. Thanks largely to the efforts of those volunteers, JDRF currently funds $568 million in research throughout 17 countries and is supporting 52 human clinical trials of potential new T1D therapies.

Volunteers put their time, talent, commitment and knowledge behind JDRF's plan to turn Type One into Type None in innumerable ways. They are active in fundraising programs such as walks, galas and other events, as well as chapter board meetings. They write letters and meet with political leaders to advocate for public policy that promotes innovations, treatments and cures. And they work with local chapters on data entry, organization, graphic design, writing/editing, mailings and the million tasks it takes to make a non-profit organization succeed.

Many volunteers also raise money through organizing their own events. Whether it's a bowl-a-thon, setting up a lemonade stand or competing in a race, JDRF supports its volunteers by ensuring they have the necessary tools.

They are the backbone of our organization -- of any organization like ours -- and the JDRF Department of Volunteer Engagement celebrates the power of every person to make a profound impact in the work to create a world without T1D.

It is with deep gratitude and honor that I thank our volunteers and all the others around the nation who are dedicated to making the world a better place. I encourage you to keep up your efforts and strive to be the inspiration for others to follow in your footsteps.

If you've considered volunteering, now is the time to make the commitment. We can achieve greatness, teach a child, ease an elderly person's pain, build a house, clean up neighborhoods and even one day eradicate a disease.