SUN CITY CENTER — Don Smith has always loved to swim.
It proved to be a great way to blow off steam and relieve the stress of his demanding career as a social worker in Ohio. On his way to the pool at the local YMCA, Don passed a pamphlet display that caught his eye: "Swim for Diabetes."
The pamphlet described a great way to raise money for children with Type 1 Diabetes, an illness that can be life-threatening in children and young adults. Smith jokingly challenged a doctor friend that if he swam 100 laps, would he donate $100 for the cause. Soon he began collecting pledges from other friends and by the time he swam his 100 laps, he had accumulated $1700.
That's how it all began back in 2002. Over the past 13 years, the challenges have increased from $200 for 200, then $300 for 300 laps. Not only has the amount of money increased from his friends, Smith has multiplied his fund-raising efforts and as of today, he has raised a total of $178,764 for the non-profit organization known as Diabetes Youth Services in Toledo, Ohio.
Now Smith has retired to Sun City Center, but his efforts continue Tuesday, his 67th birthday. He's bidding to swim 300 laps and raise $35,000 at the SCC Community Pool.
"I'm not a great swimmer, I can just swim for a long time," Smith said. "Three-hundred laps is about the equivalent of walking or running 13 miles. It's a killer. But DYS has told us we will never know the number of kids and their parents that we have helped."
Supporting DYS has become Smith's passion, and people and groups have rewarded his dedication to serving others. He received the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2011 and earned induction into the Senior Citizen Hall of Fame Ohio in 2013, joining the likes of Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller, and Woody Hayes. Smith also received the Medical Mutual Gold Medal Award for Outstanding Senior Volunteerism in 2014.
But it's serving the children that fuels his motivation.
"I don't care of you give me $3 or $3000," Smith said. "Do it for the right reason. Do it for these kids."
He also emphasizes to donors that 100 percent of the money he raises goes directly to DYS.
During the past 30 years, thousands of families have found help through the supportive service organization for children diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. DYS provides education for the child as well as their families to help deal with the life-changing illness, while helping their school faculties and staff, as well as friends and extended family members adapt to the child's special needs.
The organization also provides camps for children ages 6-15, providing them with conventional camp experiences while teaching them how to check their own sugar levels, give themselves injections, learn to regulate their diet and make good nutritional choices, even counseling on how to deal with bullying.
Smith is determined that no child be turned away from this camp experience because their parents can't afford it.
To learn more about the Diabetes Youth Service, check out their website at dys4kids.org. If you wish to make a contribution, please make a check payable to DYS and send it to Donald J. Smith, P.O. Box 6158, Sun City Center, FL, 33573. Smith will be collecting donations through the end of March. Or you may send your donation directly to Diabetes Youth Services at 2100 W. Central Avenue, Suite 110, Toledo, Ohio, 43606.
Contact Kathy Straub at [email protected]