Minnetonka students making a world of difference when it comes to diabetes awareness

Students from both Minnetonka Middle School East and West help make blue ribbons Oct. 11 at the Morrow household in Excelsior. (Sun Sailor photos by Chris Dillmann)
Students from both Minnetonka Middle School East and West help make blue ribbons Oct. 11 at the Morrow household in Excelsior. (Sun Sailor photos by Chris Dillmann)

Blue is far more than just a color to Minnetonka Middle School West students, it’s a symbol of hope.

Promoting awareness of diabetes, with which blue is associated like pink for breast cancer, has turned from a few homemade blue ribbons to recognition on a global level.

Eighth-grader Abby Morrow, whose 10-year-old sister Virginia is a Type 1 diabetic, wanted to raise awareness. Yet, she never expected the outpouring of support that’s surfaced.

Starting with 30 ribbons two years ago made by their family, the goal this year is 6,000 ribbons made by students who also want to raise awareness for the cause and tie in with National Diabetes Day Nov. 14.

This year alone more than 200 combined service hours have been devoted to making ribbons. The ribbons are made in the Morrow home in a finely tuned and organized assembly line with each kid having a role and switching roles to keep motivated.

“There’s a lot of good energy,” said Aidan O’Donnel, a volunteer.

Abby was recognized in front of 18,000 kids at “We Day” Oct. 8 at the Excel Energy Center in St. Paul. We Day promotes local and global change through service.

Though she was honored with to be recognized at such a high level, she says it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of her peers.

“I wouldn’t have been up there or anywhere near there if it weren’t for the whole group of people that helped out,” she said.

The group has been busy that last couple of years increasing the awareness of diabetes. Along with the ribbons, a paper chain made on last year’s World Diabetes Day consisted of more than 1,000 links was created with each link having somebody a student and teacher knows affected and, or a wish or hope about diabetes.

Once it was laid out, the students were amazed at how many people are impacted.

“It was really cool to see the amount of who were affected,” said volunteer Annaka Buchstaber.

“It was crazy how long it was,” said Morgan Robinson, another volunteer. “It just kept going.”

With more than 2,000 students participating, the biggest problem was space.

O’Donnel says it was a unique problem running out of space, and it was awesome to see how many people were touched by it.

The kids also participated through Physical Education in the Big Blue Test where for every 20 minutes of exercise raised $5. Organized by the Diabetes Hands Foundation, the money was donated by Roche Corp. to buy diabetes supplies for the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

In only three days more than $7,000 was raised.

Three schools are now involved – both middle schools and Excelsior Elementary where Virginia attends – and the hope is to not only make it a whole district thing but to take it outside of the Minnetonka district.

The students said before becoming involved they knew very little about the disease.

“It’s such an invisible disease,” Abby said. “Such a big part of diabetes is feeling alone.”

However, making the connections with those who are affected can build networks to further their cause.

Sonja Zbinden says the group hopes to begin raising enough funds to find a cure.

High Potential teacher at middle school west Margaret McDonald, who has helped oversee the efforts, says harnessing their charisma to make their mission happen has been an honor and privilege.

Originally, she was helping the students with fundraising efforts, but the students have recently been researching their own ideas. One idea the kids favor is selling yards of duct tape to tape a (willing) teacher to the wall and hurl blue pies at them, at a cost of course. That was a new idea to McDonald.

She says her goal is to help expand global awareness and service learning. With technology at young kid’s finger tips, only knowing isn’t enough anymore.

“We have Google to know so if we want answers we can find that information readily,” McDonald said. “What really we’re finding with real life skills is young people are able to produce something that they can take their energies, talents and gifts and turn that into something that’s meaningful to promote the greater good.”

Creating a legacy for others to follow, McDonald says they are going to start exploring how they can create a nonprofit for funding. They might not know the answers now, but the exciting part she says is they’ll figure out how to find the answers.

“That’s real world education,” she said. “This kind of stuff I think adds meaning to the young people and adds meaning to education today.”

The process of making the ribbons, McDonald says they have basically started a little corporation. Through that she says they are building valuable management and money skills, becoming good stewards of financial resources and how to expand those financial resources.

Since 3,000 ribbons have a different cost factor than 30 ribbons, they will eventually need to figure out how to make it doable and sustainable without bankrupting the Morrow family.

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Contact Chris Dillmann at [email protected]