Ryan Witty is a 13-year-old Wilton boy who created a philanthropy called “Diabetes Kids Club” to help kids newly diagnosed with diabetes. It’s something he’s been doing on his own, with the help of his family, but now he’s taking it up a notch. He spoke to GOOD Morning Wilton with his parents, and we’re excited to share his story in his own words.
When I was 8 years old, I was watching TV, and saw something about how one person can change the world and make a difference. My mom and grandma have diabetes and I wanted to do something about that, because it was always hard for me to watch my mom use needles every day. I thought about how scary it must have been when they were first diagnosed.
I wanted to help kids who were just diagnosed with diabetes and make them feel comforted. I decided to do something on my own. I went to a [Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation] meeting that Congressman Jim Himes had for kids with diabetes, and I saw all different kids with their insulin pumps and needles and that made me want to help more.
I wrote a letter to President Obama, and I thought I wouldn’t get anything back because he’s the President and busy. I also wrote to Jim Himes. First I got a call from Jim Himes on Thanksgiving. Then I got a package from the President with a signed picture and a letter and stuff encouraging me to keep doing this and keep trying. I was so happy that I got to reach out to the world, and if this made the President read my letter and respond, that I could actually make a difference with others.
I thought back to having a stuffed animal that always helped me when I was younger. When kids get diagnosed, they go to the doctor, get diagnosed and then get rushed to the hospital without anything. So I thought they might feel alone. I paired up with a bear company and got three giant boxes of bears, about 50. I wrote personal letters to each kid to go along with a bear, so that when a kid was first diagnosed they would get this. I think I was 9 years old when I made my first trip to Yale [New Haven Children’s Hospital].
Then we did fundraising. Me and my best friends had lemonade stands, did carwashes, and wend door to door for donations.
Over the next couple of years, Ryan and his parents somewhat back-burnered the project. As is sometimes typical for a young tween in Wilton, school and activities and … life got busier. On the hospital side, there were some administrative changes. So the Witty Family put Diabetes Kids Club on a bit of a hiatus for two years. But life has a funny way of turning out.
I recently broke my leg, so it gave me a lot of downtime to think. That’s when we picked it back up and started working on it again. We’re going to try to make a website where the kids will get a card with the link on it and they can go to the website. There will be a chat for the kids to go on and talk to each other about how they feel with kids going through the same thing.
We’re also reaching out to three hospitals: Boston Children’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Yale. Any kid who gets diagnosed with diabetes in the area gets sent right to Yale. The get there with the parents without anything, no extra clothes, toiletries, meals, nothing from home, because they usually get rushed right from the doctor.
Ryan’s father adds that quite often, because of the urban communities served by Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, many of the families of the children who are newly diagnosed with diabetes don’t have a lot financially. “Diabetes is really, really expensive from a medical standpoint, so some of the fundraising will go to helping the families with parking passes, meal vouchers or other necessities that they’ll need in the first few days at the hospital. They don’t have anything and it’s a really scary time.”
The kids also use the bears to give their first shots to. They do it to the teddy bear before the do it to the kids. I want to add a stuffed square with writing that says, “Practice here,” so they can practice giving the shot there. We have a lot of ideas
Now we’re working on including a gift card, hospital parking vouchers, and their first package of blood sugar tester strips, with the bears and the cards from me. We need to raise money so we can add to that. And we’re working on becoming a 501(c)3 so donations will be tax-deductible. I’ve learned a lot.
In mid-March Ryan made a trip to Yale to deliver another 50 bears. The Yale contacts shared that because the kids he’s helping are pretty much stuck in hospital beds and can’t be active, they’re very bored. So Ryan went shopping and bought about 50-60 activities for any kids who get admitted to the hospital there with a diabetes diagnosis.
We bought bedside activities, like invisible pen books, Mad Libs, puzzles and games to keep them busy.
A few of my closest friends who have really big hearts are helping. We’re going to do bake sales outside of Village Market. We do anything we can—lawn work and wash cars, lemonade stands. [Ryan’s father adds that as soon as they have 501(c)3 status they’ll be able to work on corporate donations.] We planned the next bake sale for this Monday, May 2 from 4-7 p.m. at the Village Market.
In school we’re doing something similar called “The Power of One.” You try to make a change in the world, for something your passionate about. It’s great that I can incorporate this not only at home, but at school too. We’ve just started it and it’s great how much, it’s not only me, but all these kids have so much compassion. Everyone is passionate about something and it’s about the drive to do something about it.
Anyone interested in helping Ryan can contact the Witty family via email or by calling or 203.621.4921. Donations can also be mailed to 36 Blueberry Hill Pl. in Wilton.
GMW asked Ryan’s parents, Jason and Kim Witty, about what their son is doing.
“Ryan has always been an incredibly passionate kid in general, towards people, towards animals. He’s also a really smart kid. He’s the kind of kid who, if it’s snowing out, they go out and shovel other people’s driveways. He’s always been driven to make money and go out and do things. So to pair the compassion with the drive for entrepreneurialism is amazing. We really wanted to support it as something that will continue through his life,” says Jason. “Ideally we see this as a 501(c)3 that can keep going 20 years.
Jason knows that Ryan is getting something out of doing this as well.
“He’s gaining a tremendous amount too. To touch a life is incredible. When we posted a picture on Facebook of the March trip to Yale, and a friend liked it. The parent of one of the four kids at Yale that had just been admitted that week knew our friend and saw the post. She said, ‘My son was one of the kids that received a teddy bear, thank you so much, it meant so much!'” Jason recounts. “To see that come back around, and see the immediate impact it have blew us away.”
Ryan’s mom, Kim Witty, whose own experience with having diabetes was what inspired her son to start Diabetes Kids Club, wasn’t surprised that he was so compassionate.
“I was kind of taken aback to see his view of it, of watching me go through what I go through. It hit me when we went to talk with Jim Himes. Ryan was most excited about seeing Jim Himes, but when we got there the room was filled with kids. I’m an adult with diabetes, and it was powerful to watch him. His eyes widened. We sat next to a little girl who had been diagnosed within the past three months. She just had gotten a pump and showed it to Ryan. She was about 4 or 5 years old. It upset him so much, he couldn’t wrap his head around it. He said, ‘Mommy, do they have to do what you do?’ It was very powerful and moving for me, and eye-opening.”
Ryan’s efforts have meant a lot to Kim. “It’s a really hard disease. As an adult I struggle with it still, as a daily thing that affects our whole family on a daily basis. And I’m an adult. So I love that he’s helping children, that maybe he’s making it a little easier for them.”