National Volunteer Appreciation Week: Spotlight on Hawaii

It’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week, and we have been celebrating people in action to Stop Diabetes®. Last but not least are Leslie and Dee-Ann, who are making a big difference in Hawaii.


Leslie DeeAnn Hawaii

L to R: Leslie Lam, Hawaii CLB Chair Mike Ching, Dr. Dee-Ann Carpenter

Here in Hawaii, we face unique geographical barriers in our mission to help people with and at risk for diabetes. How do you reach your audience when they’re scattered across several islands, some of which have an 80 percent rate of type 2 diabetes? After all, our Honolulu-based office only has a staff of five!

That’s just one of the reasons we’re so fortunate to have a robust base of volunteers. They’re not only dedicated; they’re in for the long haul. We have volunteers who have served on the Community Leadership Board (CLB) for 30, even 40 years! That level of experience is certainly invaluable, though of course we also welcome newcomers. It takes all of us to Stop Diabetes.

Dr. Carpenter leads our board by example with a solid blend of community connections, diabetes knowledge and professionalism (she happens to be a practicing physician). She has helped us spread the word about the Living With Type 2 Diabetes program among the Hawaiian healthcare community. Because of her leadership, we surpassed our goals in delivering this important service to people who have been recently diagnosed.

Like Dr. Carpenter, all our board members leverage their strengths to help the Association. Some are stellar at reaching the high-risk Native Hawaiian community, while others bring strong business skills and fiscal sensibility. Still others have strong connections to the mass media, which we really rely on to spread our message across the state.

And I always say that everybody knows someone. We have so many connections that sometimes it takes a single email or phone call to set a new initiative in motion.

The best part of any big event, such as our Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes, is standing back for a moment and watching everything come to life. There will be people I know well, but also plenty of others I don’t recognize. They’re all buzzing around, directing traffic, handing out materials, filling up water stations—all proudly helping us in the name of stopping diabetes.

It’s breathtaking and humbling. I’ll think to myself, “How did this all happen?” And the answer is, simply: Volunteers. And then I exhale with gratitude . . . deeply felt gratitude!

Leslie Lam
Executive Director
American Diabetes Association of Hawaii


I learned a lot about diabetes when I was a medical student, and as an internal medicine resident I saw many complications from diabetes in my patients. But some things only hit home when they touch you personally.

When I was pregnant with my daughter almost 16 years ago, my father was diagnosed with diabetes. I still remember my mother changing the way she cooked and cutting out sweets from my father’s diet. She said, “I will not push your wheelchair; you need to help yourself now!”

My father lost weight and learned how to push himself away from the table—and to this day, his diabetes is under control with no known complications (he’ll be 78 this year). In contrast, his brother died last year after having uncontrolled diabetes for years. He lost his eyesight, was on hemodialysis and had one amputation after another.

About four years ago, Dr. Laurie Tom, then President of the Community Leadership Board (CLB) of the American Diabetes Association in Hawaii, asked me to join the Board. I quickly said yes and started a Step Out team representing the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine. Every year since we’ve had a walk team that includes students, staff, faculty and even the dean himself.

Then I was asked to go to the national Community Volunteer Leadership Conference and saw what the Association did nationally. When I became president of the local CLB I was able to make some new connections. For example, I asked the OHA (Office of Hawaiian Affairs) to become more involved with the Association. We are working hard to get the word out, especially to Native Hawaiians, because their prevalence of diabetes is higher than for other ethnic groups in the state.

Diabetes touches all aspects of my life: being active on the Board, participating in Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes, getting my patients to go to TCOYD (Taking Control of Your Diabetes), doing clinical research on diabetes to improve health disparities, increasing education for health professionals and the general public alike, helping advocate for policy changes, improving my own lifestyle to decrease my risk for developing diabetes.

Dee-Ann Carpenter, MD
Volunteer and President, Community Leadership Board, Hawaii
Member, National Community and Volunteer Development Committee
American Diabetes Association


Want to help us Stop Diabetes? Sign up at our new online Volunteer Center to be matched to an opportunity in your area.

Know an outstanding American Diabetes Association volunteer? Be sure to tell us about them in the comments below!

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This entry was posted in About Us, High-Risk Populations, National Volunteer Appreciation Week, Staff Stories, Stop Diabetes, Volunteer Stories and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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