Family cause

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In the Triad, families of people with diabetes are spearheading efforts to raise money for diabetes research.

Because his father died from the disease, Michael Conrad volunteered for the Piedmont Triad chapter of the New York City-based Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation after he retired in May 2000 as controller in the government division at Lucent Technologies in Greensboro.

And two of the chapter’s biggest benefactors, the Berry family and its Greensboro-based Fresh Market chain, have selected the chapter as their primary charity because Beverly Berry, the wife of the chain’s president and CEO, has the disease.

“The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is our charity of choice,” says Brett Berry, chief operating officer of Fresh Market and son of Beverly and Ray Berry.

The 40-store chain, which was founded in 1982 and has stores from Virginia to Florida to Memphis, has donated $407,000 to the chapter through the annual sale of root-beer floats and hot dogs at each store.

This year’s event, held in July, raised $62,700 for the chapter, which overall raised $1.8 million in the fiscal year ended June 30 and in recent years consistently has raised more money relative to the size of the population it serves than all but a handful of the foundation’s 80 chapters.

Thanks in large part to volunteers who are family members of people with diabetes, 85 percent of funds the foundation raises are used for research.

“Without the support of passionate parents who have children with diabetes, there’s no way we would be that efficient,” says Conrad, now the chapter’s executive director.

Since it was founded in 1970 by parents of children with the disease, the foundation has provided $800 million for research, compared to $150 million that Congress has allocated for diabetes research over the next five years.

And research is critical because, while diabetes can be treated with insulin, the drug is “a band-aid, not a cure,” Conrad says.

Eighteen million Americans have diabetes, with a new case diagnosed every 30 seconds, and health costs associated with the disease total $130 billion a year, Conrad says.

The Piedmont Triad chapter, which was formed in 1995 by parents of children with the disease and covers 14 counties, raises most of its money through four walks, held each fall in Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem and Burlington-Alamance County, and through a winter gala and spring golf tournament.

The chapter raised $1.1 million at last year’s walks, $35,000 at the golf tournament and $550,000 at the gala, which honored Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, owner and CEO of Pace Communications in Greensboro and the new national board chair for the American Red Cross.

Honored at the chapter’s first gala in 2001 was the Berry family, which each year has been the presenting sponsor for both the annual walk and gala.

“They have been terrific supporters of the organization from the very beginning,” Conrad says.

“That’s what we’re all about,” he says, “trying to get an entrée into companies so they can help us with our mission, which is to raise funds to find a cure for diabetes.”

While Fresh Market lets the manager of each store set a quarterly discretionary budget to spend on charitable contributions, the firm donates to the Piedmont Triad diabetes chapter all the money raised at the root-beer and hot-dog events at all stores in the chain.

“We can leverage what we do in the community by generating community involvement,” Berry says.

And while both the family and the firm contribute to other charities, selecting a few main charities is an easier way than trying to respond to a broad range of requests, he says.

That may change in a few years, he says, because the family wants to create its own foundation.

While Brett Berry just rotated off the board of the Piedmont Triad diabetes chapter, Mike Barry, Fresh Market’s chief financial officer and Berry’s brother-in-law, and Eric Blaesing, Fresh Market’s director of community development, both serve on the board, while Ray and Beverly Berry both serve on the chapter’s Friends Council.

Chairs for this fall’s walks include Billy Nutt, President and CEO, United Guaranty, Greensboro walk, Sept. 11; Tom Ryan, President, Alamance Regional Health Systems, Burlington-Alamance County walk, Sept. 25; John O’Leary, president, Thomas Built Buses, and Strib Boynton, High Point city manager, High Point walk, Oct. 2; and Joe Budd, president and CEO, The Budd Group, Winston-Salem walk, Oct. 16.

For information, call 336.768.1027.

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