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Interview: Anna Norton on the Future of Diabetes Sisters.

Organizations that bring people touched by diabetes together have a special place in my heart, because peer-to-peer support checks that “whole person care” box on the mental diabetes management to do list.  The Diabetes Sisters organization is a group that brings women with type 1 and type 2 diabetes together in an environment that fosters open discussion, camaraderie, and learning.  Today I’m talking with Interim CEO Anna Norton, who is helping transition the organization into a new era.

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Kerri:  Thanks for taking the time to talk today, Anna!  We’ve known one another a long time, and you’ve been part of the Diabetes Sisters organization for years.  Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved with DS?

Anna Norton:  Thank you, Kerri, for taking time out to interview me! I initially became involved with DiabetesSisters in 2011, when I attended my first Weekend for Women Conference in Raleigh, NC. That was the first time I had ever experienced being in a room with 99 other women with diabetes. I never realized how much I needed their understanding and support until that weekend; before that, I just managed on my own. Following that event, I was asked to join the planning committee for future conferences. In 2012, Brandy asked me to join the DiabetesSisters’ staff full time as Operations Manager, where I oversaw the National PODS Meetup program (our monthly support group meetings), the Weekend for Women Conference Series, online contributors, and other programs. Over the last four years, I’ve gotten to know so many people with diabetes, so many “movers and shakers” in the diabetes community, including you!

Kerri:  What is your personal connection to diabetes?  How does your personal experience color your involvement with Diabetes Sisters?

Anna Norton:  I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1993, when I was 18 years old. Initially, I had a few years of okay management, followed by years of noncompliance, depression and poor medical care. Eventually, I faced the reality that diabetes was controlling me and holding me back. Once I realized that, I was able to make changes in my management, starting with finding a new endocrinologist and going on a pump. Then I fulfilled my personal dream of getting married and having a child, which so many people told me I would never be able to do.  It’s been 15 years since I “transformed” my diabetes care and I’ve never looked back. Over the years, I have met so many women through DiabetesSisters, all at different stages in their diabetes care. I see myself in so many of them: a younger version of myself struggling to figure out how diabetes plays a role in her future, a mom managing both diabetes and a young child, a professional figuring out how diabetes will affect her career. I am inspired by every woman I meet living with diabetes, thriving with it, each with her own story of success. It’s important to me to have these women in my life, to support and guide me, and in turn, for me to do the same for them.

Kerri:  With Brandy leaving the organization (and she will be missed!), how do you see yourself stepping up and taking charge of this amazing group?

Anna Norton:  Brandy really did an excellent job in building a strong foundation for DiabetesSisters and for that, we are grateful. Over the last three years, she and I teamed up to create more programming to serve our online population and train more women to lead our PODS Meetups – monthly support groups that meet in over 30 cities throughout the US, including an online meetup. Over the years, Brandy entrusted me with the care of DiabetesSisters on so many levels, all the moving parts became very familiar to me. When Brandy decided to step down, the Board of Directors asked me to step into the Interim CEO role and continue the work. In my new role, I have the opportunity to meet supporters and funders that have helped shape the success of DiabtesSisters, and I get to share our member stories with them, as well as represent their needs. It’s important our funders to know how much their support helps change lives.

Kerri:  What are you most excited about, as CEO?  What scares you the most?  And how can the DOC help as you transition?

Anna Norton: I am definitely excited about continuing on this great path, growing our programs and services, adding more topics to our webinars, and reaching as many women as we can. I’m excited about adding some services for underserved populations, such as African American and Hispanic women. I have a busy summer ahead of me, representing DiabetesSisters at various conferences. The biggest challenge, though, is our small staff, although we’ve had some key volunteers step up to plate to help out, which is fantastic! During this time, I’d love for the DOC to reach out to me, introduce themselves virtually or in-person, and learn more about how the organization can serve them or ways we can partner up to impact more lives. I’d love to see women in the DOC step up as leaders and create more PODS Meetup groups in their communities, share their stories with the community through our website blogs, and provide online support through their own blogs.

Kerri:  Will the PODS meetings still continue?  How about regional conferences?

Anna Norton:  Of course! We just completed a weekend Leadership Institute for our PODS Leaders, which focused on more training for them. This program is, by far, our largest in-person, serving over 1,200 women annually, with a balance of education and support once a month.

Our national Conference Series – Weekend for Women, along with the Partners’ Perspective Program – is still alive, although we took this year off to focus on the Leadership Institute. It’s always a challenge with limited funds, so we’ve tried to provide the best programming in 2015.

Kerri:  What’s next for Diabetes Sisters, and how can the DOC get involved?

Anna Norton:  Our future is bright – and I’m glad to be a part of it. This is a time of continued growth for DiabetesSisters, and for all diabetes-related organizations. There’s so much to learn, so many treatments to trial, so much support to be provided. The DOC can move mountains with its influence, and encourage their audience to learn more about DiabetesSisters, read our website (www.diabetessisters.org), subscribe to our e-newsletter, listen to our webinars, and most importantly, get the word out about how we are a one-of-a-kind organization focusing on the emotional and social well-being of all women living with all kinds of diabetes.

Kerri:  Where do you see Diabetes Sisters in six months?  A year?  Five years?

Anna Norton:  That’s a great question! I definitely see DiabetesSisters continuing on the path of growth. With a great Board of Directors leading, there’s no doubt that will happen. In the near future, we will continue to build upon the foundation that is set, growing existing programs, trialing new ones, listening to our members and providing for their needs. Over the course of the following years, I see great partnership being forged with other organizations, maximizing our potentials in the diabetes support world. Eventually, I envision DiabetesSisters as the go-to for women living with diabetes to learn more about every stage of life including the years of young adulthood, relationship, pregnancy, parenting, peri-menopause and beyond, advance duration, etc.

Thank you, Kerri, for allowing me this opportunity, for being a DiabetesSisters’ cheerleader and for giving so much of yourself to the organization. I am excited to expand my role in the DOC and contribute to the support of our community!

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