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Faith Academy, Gonzales, LA

Two years ago, Faith Academy lost one of its own from diabetes-related complications. Zoie Willeford, an 8-year-old student with type 1 diabetes, passed away during the second week of school. Shannon Wilson, a teacher's aide at Faith Academy, immediately began to look for ways to spread awareness about diabetes and make sure Zoie's memory lived on in the Gonzales community.

Faith Academy had participated in other charity events in the past, but after Zoie's death, Wilson wanted to hold an event to specific to diabetes to raise awareness in the community. In just two weeks, they planned and implemented Faith Academy's first School Walk for Diabetes (SWFD) campaign. They focused on fund raising in amounts of eight to represent Zoie's age—selling backpacks for $8 each, with a goal of raising $800. They met this goal on the first day, so they increased the goal to $8,000.

School clubs got involved as well. The Beta Club held a "Lappin' up Lemonade" event to sell sugar-free lemonades. Another club did a car wash. Their efforts were well worth it, and they raised more than $10,000. The next year, they were more organized in their approach to gaining sponsorship and increased community participation. They easily raised more than $8,000 in their second SWFD event, which they now call the "Faith Academy Zoie Willeford Memorial School Walk for Diabetes." They plan to hold the event for many years to come.

As a result of Zoie's death, the Gonzales community came together to raise awareness about diabetes and its severity. "Awareness about things like this always seems to begin with someone's heartbreak, and even though it was a terrible tragedy in our community, I know something good will come of it," Wilson said.

Not long after Zoie's death, Wilson started noticing symptoms of diabetes in her own daughter Ashley, an eighth grader at Faith Academy. She immediately took Ashley to the doctor for testing, having to push the nurses and doctors to take her seriously. They didn't think anything was wrong because she was not overweight. After Wilson demanded a urine test, the doctors finally diagnosed Ashley with insulin resistance. Insulin resistance happens when the body doesn't use insulin like it should, and it puts people at risk for developing diabetes. This experience made Wilson realize that many people, including medical professionals, do not fully understand diabetes or its symptoms.

Although she has retired from her position at Faith Academy, Wilson will continue to be involved with the cause and plans to help carry on Zoie's Memorial Walk at the school. She hopes that Zoie’s memory will live on in the community and continue to raise awareness about diabetes.

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