15 Year Old Jay Haapala Working to Change the World

I’d like to share a guest post by Jay Haapala, recipient of a Prudential Spirit of Community award. His story is pretty awesome, and deserves to be told. I’m honored to give Jay a small platform to tell his story.


Jay Haapala
Jay Haapala

On October 8, 2003 I was diagnosed with Type One diabetes. What seemed pretty devastating to my six year old self would eventually be turned into something that would change my life forever, but for the better. People always ask me what it was like being diagnosed and getting adjusted to life with diabetes. I now have a response to that question after almost 10 years of seriously thinking about it. It was more of an initial shock and adjustment to my parents; my adjustment to T1D came later in life as I started to care for myself. I was sitting in my hospital bed bored out of my right mind (this was pre iPad and iPhone days… makes me feel old to say that). After a couple of days in the hospital a volunteer from JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) came to visit us and give me a Bag of Hope. That volunteer is now a close family friend. That Bag of Hope visit got me my start with JDRF, which would later change my life for the better.


My family started to become more and more involved with JDRF. We started attending their annual Walk to Cure Diabetes in Charleston, WV. As my family became more involved with the walk, so did I. In May of 2012 I chaired the walk in Charleston. It was an experience derived from needing an Eagle Scout service project. I wanted to do something different so I decided to run the walk. Here I was, 14 years old and clueless as to how I was going to run this event I just agreed to run. I knew I could do it, I just wasn’t sure how. The how came as I started, the first thing I wanted to do was come up with a theme. (I’m the type of person that if I’m doing something and it ties into something I love, I’ll do a much better job).

2013 Capitol steps photoIn 2007 I discovered something that has forever changed my life for the better and truly gets me through my long, often boring high school day. That something is aviation — in particular airline aviation. I credit that discovery to T1D. In 2007, my mom and I flew to St. Louis for a JDRF conference. I had flown several times before then. However, after that trip I was hooked on aviation. My love for aviation sparked the theme for my walk, “Soaring Toward a Cure”. The walk attracted over 700 walkers and raised a record-breaking $140,000 for JDRF. I even had a helicopter and two hang gliders at the walk. I applied for a Prudential Spirit of Community Award and was selected as their High School State Honoree from West Virginia. Visit spirit.prudential.com to learn more about the award. This weekend, I will travel to Washington, DC for four days of recognition events. Below are some facts about me:

  • I’m 15
  • I go to Capital High School in Charleston, WV C/O 2016
  • I’m a representative on Capital’s student council
  • I work at Yeager Airport (CRW) in the marketing and air service development department
  • I’m an Eagle Scout (pending signature from the national council)
  • I’m a soon to be student pilot

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Wow, Jay! Way to go! Thank you for all you are doing for people with diabetes. You are a real role model!

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Scott K. Johnson

Patient voice, speaker, writer, advocate, and Senior Community Manager at Blue Circle Health. Living life with diabetes and telling my story. All opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent my employer’s position. Read more…

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