Leslie Gross has a passion for children, which is why she entered the education profession. Gross is taking her passion and knowledge to the next level to bring the first-ever event to Nebraska City to benefit the community’s youth.

She is the kindergarten through second-grade physical education teacher at Northside Elementary School and she was appointed as the Nebraska City Public Schools Nebraska City Wellness Program coordinator for staff and faculty by NCPS Superintendent Jeffrey Edwards in September 2015. Since the beginning of her appointment, she has been planning and organizing the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Kids Walk and Health Fair event as a community-wide outreach effort to help raise awareness about juvenile diabetes and to raise money for additional juvenile diabetes research.

According to JDRF, 1.25 million Americans have been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, including about 200,000 youth that are less than 20 years old and over 1 million adults over the age of 20 currently living with the disease. There are nine NCPS and Lourdes Central Catholic Schools students living with T1D and Gross said the free JDRF Kids Walk and Health Fair fundraiser is an important way for the community to show its support to the local youth.

In fact, the health and quality of life for her students are what she holds dear in her heart.

“I’m passionate for this. I love kids and I wasn’t able to have them myself and so these are my kids. I just hate to see them struggle,” she said while tearing up. “The whole day is for the kids.”

Gross has experienced her own sadness with the disease when her father, Ron Dyer of Franklin, died from complications of having Type 2 Diabetes.

“He died at 59 and he didn’t take care of his diabetes like he should have and maybe if he would’ve been given more information and more help and more assistance he may have changed some of his life habits,” she said.

T1D is an autoimmune disease where a person’s pancreas quits producing insulin, which is a hormone that allows people to get energy from food. Living with T1D is life-threatening and is a non-stop balancing act because blood-sugar levels are constantly monitored by people having to prick their fingers up to six times a day to check their blood. Adults and youth with T1D have to inject or continually infuse insulin with a pump into their bodies and cautiously balance their insulin doses with eating and daily activities throughout all hours of each day.

Insulin, however, is not a cure and despite a person’s efforts to daily monitor their blood-glucose levels and inject insulin into their bodies there is always the fear of having dangerously high or low blood-sugar levels.

According to JDRF, people living with T1D run the risk of suffering from kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, heart attack, stroke and complications during pregnancy. Diabetes is ranked as the seventh leading cause of death in the nation and the risk of death for people with diabetes doubles to that of a person their age without diabetes.

The JDRF Kids Walk and Health Fair, sponsored by NCPS, will take place April 16 from 8 a.m. to noon at the Nebraska City High School Pioneer Field track. Nine Nebraska City students will be the VIPs at the event - Anthony Alger, 15; Nathaniel Brady, 18; Journey Cook, 6; Tyler Frix, 11; Kelsey Heft, 17; Calie Koberstein, 15; Collin Moyer, 10; Will Stidd II, 14; and Tristian Peter, 15.

Gross personally hates needles and can’t imagine getting poked with one all of the time. Take Heft and Peter, for example. Both students have accumulated 40,150 finger pokes since they were diagnosed with T1D. Heft was diagnosed at the age of 6 and Peter was diagnosed at 4 years old.

Heft said the hardest thing about living with T1D is “having to say, ‘No,’ to certain foods or not being like other kids.” Peter said if a cure for T1D is someday found he would “be so happy for all those currently living with Type 1 Diabetes.

“I just hope everyone has the same access to a cure,” he added.

All of the students and their families will kick-off the JDRF Kids Walk and Health Fair fundraiser by walking through a large, inflatable archway to lead the walk around the track. After they kick-off the walk portion, they will all be inside of the T1D, or VIP, tent at the field so they can share their own stories about living with the disease. The students’ photographs and biographies will also be featured on signs that will be located around the track among many more signs about T1D facts. Gross thanked photographer Kelsey Heyen, owner of Kelsey Heyen Photography, of Dunbar for taking photographs of all the students for free.

Gross said a few adults living with T1D will also be at the event so the youth suffering from the disease can witness an adult going through their same illness. There will be two donation tables and for every $1 donated people will get a raffle ticket for a chance to win a donated item. There will also be a separate raffle available for students as well.

The health fair portion will feature health-related vendors and will be held inside of NCHS. Gross said people can follow the footsteps that will lead them from the parking lot into the high school’s main entrance.

Gross’ goal is to raise $5,000 for JDRF, which more than 80 percent of the organization’s expenditures goes to directly support research-related education and research.

“The amount of money that goes directly to research is huge with (JDRF),” she said.

As of March 31, Gross reported that about $800 had been raised so far. In order to raise additional money, NCPS students will compete in a Change War where each grade in all of the school buildings will donate their spare change every day next week for JDRF. Gross said the winning grade levels who raise the most money in each building will be rewarded with a prize.

Gross added that JDRF Heartland Chapter, Lincoln and Greater Nebraska, development coordinator Laura Eberly will speak to each NCPS student today in multiple school assemblies about the JDRF Kids Walk and Health Fair and about the school-district-wide Change War.

Gross is hoping that people will attend the JDRF Kids Walk and Health Fair fundraising event to donate to a good cause, support local youth, visit with local students living with T1D and learn more about the disease. She added that she would like to have the event in Nebraska City every other year or every three years.

“Come out and support (the kids) because they put up with a lot,” she said.

People can also donate directly to the NCPS-sponsored event at www2.jdrf.org/goto/nebcitywalk.

For more information about T1D, go to jdrf.org.