Lions set sights on diabetes awareness

WESTFIELD-Elaine Roy joined the Westfield Centennial Lions Club for several reasons, and in particular, for its dedication to diabetes awareness.

“At the age of six, my grandson was diagnosed with the life-threatening condition known as type 1 diabetes,” said Roy. “He is now 16, and for 10 years has been dealing with the many challenges required to survive and to avoid serious long-term complications.”

Roy added she has seen firsthand how treatment involves extensive knowledge of how to effectively manage the chronic condition.

“The Lions Club is hopeful that our community, through its participation and generosity, will help us make a significant difference in the lives of all diabetics,” said Roy.

The club’s “participation” includes funding a Challenge Diabetes Program (CDP) next month at the Westfield Senior Center, as well as a Dance Showcase on June 9 from 2 – 6 p.m. at the Shaker Farms Country Club to raise funds to benefit diabetes awareness.

Chet Galaska will lead an informative Challenge Diabetes Program at the Westfield Senior Center in June with funds raised by a Dance Showcase at the Shaker Farms Country Club.

“One reason the Lions Club has chosen to sponsor the Challenge Diabetes Program is because most people, including our own members, know someone or have a family member with diabetes,” said Roy. “We want to make the public more aware that diabetes in Massachusetts is at its highest rate.”

Chet Galaska, who has had diabetes since 1981, developed the Challenge Diabetes Program three years ago with the YMCA of Greater Springfield. He serves as volunteer chairman of the YMCA Advisory Board and is a member of the corporate board of directors. 

In addition to the program, Galaska wrote The Diabetes Book: What Everyone Should Know, which covers practical issues and background information to help everyone understand the disease without “muddling through” clinical texts or trying to determine what information is correct and which isn’t.

“Unfortunately, some common sources are flat out wrong and do more harm than good,” said Galaska, adding he is not a medical professional but understands what diabetics deal with every day.

“I knew that existing literature was difficult to get through and sometimes was wrong,” he said. “There are misleading scams that people believe and myths that have persisted through generations. The program has been successful in informing participants, dispelling the stigma, and generating pride in those who fight a disease that is far more difficult than most people imagine.”

The three classes at the Westfield Senior Center will each run 60 minutes and includes time for questions, answers and peer support.

“The program dispels diabetes myths and presents the facts,” said Galaska. “Everyone in our community, diabetic or not, is encouraged to attend.”

The first program, “Introduction to Diabetes” on June 5 at 1 p.m., explains what the disease is, how people become diabetic, and what can be done about it. No pre-registration is necessary to attend this session.

“Non-diabetics will learn enough in the first class to dispel the stigma and become valuable supporters of those who have diabetes,” said Galaska. “By understanding the facts they develop respect for those who fight the disease and encourage those who have it to get the help they need.”

Advance registration is necessary for the second and third programs beginning at 9:30 a.m. because of space limitations. Reservations for both sessions can be made by calling (413) 562-6435. 

Galaska will discuss foods that affect blood glucose levels and share practical steps that can be used “immediately” during the June 13 program titled “What Can I Eat?”

Galaska wraps up the series on June 20 with a program titled “The Magic Bullet,” explaining how moderate physical activity “powerfully” reduces blood glucose levels.

“Many diabetics do not treat their disease well, if at all,” said Galaska. “One reason for this is a stigma that blames diabetics for getting the disease and unfairly criticizes them. No one wants to deal with this so many keep diabetes to themselves, do not get support from others and even ignore it.”

Galaska added this scenario results in “serious complications” and early deaths that can “hurt individuals, everyone who counts on them and the entire community.”

“Diabetes is not initiated by personal behavior and it’s much harder to manage than most people know,” said Galaska. “The CDP’s goal is to dispel the stigma and create a knowledgeable community that respects those who fight diabetes. If we succeed, the stigma will vanish and many more diabetics will be motivated to acknowledge the disease and manage it.”

Kyle Pierce, president, Westfield Centennial Lions Club, shared a similar sentiment.

“Diabetes is a global epidemic affecting an increasing number of people all over the world,” said Pierce in a letter to local business owners about the programs. “It is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease, blindness, kidney failure and lower limb amputation globally. Here in Hampden County, the Centers for Disease Control notes that one in three adults has prediabetes and is at risk for type 2 diabetes, which is the highest rate in Massachusetts. There are numerous people who are unaware that they have diabetes. As such, we are looking to bring diabetes awareness to our community.”

Pierce noted that the Dance Showcase will allow community members to engage with and watch locally trained dancers, as well as learn dance techniques. Dances to be showcased include the Hustle, Tango, Waltz, Foxtrot and Country Two Step. Dancers and spectators are welcome to attend. A $10 donation at the door is requested with proceeds benefiting the Challenge Diabetes Program. Light refreshments will be provided as well as a cash bar. Also, a raffle is planned.

For dancers seeking more information about participating during the Dance Showcase, contact Roxann Bradley at (413) 348-3190 or send an email to [email protected].

“We hope that people who are diabetic will feel better after the Challenge Diabetes Program which will focus on healthy eating habits and exercise,” said Bradley, adding, “dancing is an ideal way to exercise.”

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