By Curtis Warfield, Kidney Advocacy Committee member and transplant recipient
The National Kidney Foundation’s Kidney Walk is an important event in every community that is fortunate to host one. Not only does it raise funds for research programs; it also brings awareness and education to participants and the general public and supports the kidney patient community. I participated in my first Kidney Walk with my family and donor two years ago (2016) when I was six months post-transplant. Last year, I stepped it up a bit and captained my own team with team shirts and the works.
While our Walk in Indianapolis has been well attended and an overall amazing event, I felt something was missing. Other major walks and runs hosted in the city have had a local or national celebrity – the mayor, governor, or some other high ranking public official – to help promote and open the event. This brought additional hype, press coverage and awareness for that event. I wanted to help bring this type of awareness for the Indianapolis Kidney Walk.
I contacted Margie Evans Fort, CEO of the NKF of Indiana, and asked if there was anything I could do to assist their office in soliciting this support from local officials. I informed her of my ideas and willingness to help. Margie was quick to say yes and offer her support as I started working towards this goal getting a local legislator to speak at the Walk. I also requested a table at the Walk to have information on the legislative priorities, including the Living Donor Protection Act(H.R. 1270) & H.R. 3867 promoting early detection and treatment of kidney disease, letters for walkers to sign for their legislators and other information from the local office.
Additionally, I contacted my Kidney Advocacy Committee (KAC) Regional Leader and fellow Hoosier, Jim Myers, to inform him of my plans and bounce ideas off him. Jim, as always, was very supportive.
I had two main goals in mind as I embarked on this journey to engage our local leaders:
- Have several officials attend as speakers with their staff
- Have an Indianapolis Kidney Walk Day proclamation presented at the Walk.
To begin, I made of list of officials that included my congressman, neighboring congresswoman whose district covers the north part of the city, our two U.S. Senators, Governor, Mayor and the State Health Commissioner. Then, I contacted the mayor’s office by phone to inquire about getting a proclamation. It wasn’t a difficult process. I had to included facts about the Walk, kidney disease, how many people are affected in the local area, and what the local office is doing to promote and bring awareness to kidney disease. After reviewing the materials submitted to the mayor’s office, the mayor granted a proclamation for Indianapolis Kidney Walk Day.
Next, I used contacts built through my involvement with KAC and official websites to reach out to the other elected officials on my list. In each invitation, I included the details of the Walk, how the Walk affects the local community and how their appearance would be supportive to the kidney community. While most responded with a conflict of schedule and could not attend, several sent letters of support to be read at the Walk.
One elected official, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) originally wasn’t going to be able to attend; but asked to have a senior staff member in his place with his statement. Fortunately, four days prior to the Walk I received a message from Sen. Donnelly’s office that they had changed his schedule to allow him to join us at the event. I was honored to serve as NKF’s contact person for the Senator on Walk Day.
We scheduled Sen. Donnelly to conclude the opening ceremony so I would could speak to him and leave some information with him and his team. With the help from the NKF Government Relation Team, I put together a package for the Senator that included information about the Living Donor Protection Act, H.R. 3867 and appropriations funding requests.
When he arrived, I greeted him and brought him to the stage before I made my remarks as a representative for KAC on our legislative efforts for the kidney patient community. The Senator gave his remarks, kicked off the Walk and greeted each of the walkers as they started on the route. I was fortunate to also have my kidney donor with me, so I introduced her as I spoke with the Senator about the need to protect our living organ donors. This caught his interest and he stayed to speak with her about living donation.
The Walk was a wild success. The Walk participants were excited to have one of their top legislators there and the local office was very excited to have the Mayor’s office proclaim Indianapolis Kidney Walk Day. The news coverage opened the Walk up to a broader audience. The Senator was able to get out and meet constituents with kidney disease. Also, I had another chance to meet with the Senator and his staff to remind him about our community’s policy needs.
Having our public officials appear at the Walk can bring greater awareness to the Kidney Walk and our local NKF offices. This expands NKF’s presence in our community and public officials are exposed to the kidney community, able to mingle with their constituents, and ultimately put faces with to kidney disease and hear their stories. It also supports our efforts as KAC members to advocate for kidney disease policy and educate our legislators.
I am excited to share I have even been invited to be on next year’s Walk committee. I’m looking forward to building on this year’s success. Volunteering with the local NKF office has helped strengthen my relationship with them and improve the Walk. I look forward to further improving this relationship, working with them on future projects and being able to support each other for the causes of kidney awareness, education, research, funding and policy advocacy.