By Tala Strauss
Gordon College News Service
May 1, 2013
(This appeared in a GCNS package of stories in the print and online editions of the Boston Globe, North, May, 16, 2013.)
When Samantha Fowler, 21, of Westchester, NY, was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 13, she thought her life was over.
“I didn’t think I’d grow up a regular teenager,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, I’m not going to go to college, because I’m not going to be able to have fun.’”
Eight years later, as a graduating senior at Endicott College in Beverly, MA, Fowler now spends much of her time advocating for diabetes awareness. Like Fowler, Endicott senior Jon O’Bryan, 22, of Essex VT, has also spent most of his free time helping others as a volunteer firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with the Essex Fire Department. O’Bryan even keeps his gear in the trunk of his car so he can drive straight to the scene of an emergency.
Before either walks across the stage at Endicott’s 73rd graduation with 520 other undergraduates on Friday, May 24, they will have made a difference in the lives of hundreds of people.
Brandi Johnson, the associate dean of students at Endicott College, has known O’Bryan and Fowler since their freshman year. Johnson, whom Fowler affectionately calls “Mom,” took both students on alternative spring breaks and interacted with them regularly throughout their time at Endicott.
“From their start here, they were automatic rock stars,” she said. “They engulfed themselves in Endicott in a positive manner.”
Fowler, a psychology major with a focus in special education, regularly organizes fundraisers for diabetes research, and a portion of all the money raised this year by Endicott’s chapter of the honor society Psi Chi, of which she is the campus president, will be going to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
“A lot of my friends will ask, ‘What is diabetes?’” said Fowler. “I’m trying to get people more aware that it is so prevalent now, that it’s affecting people that they go to school with.”
Over 8 percent of the population has diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, and Fowler said childhood obesity is causing an epidemic of Type 2 diabetes in the United States. But what she wants most of all is a cure.
“The fact that it’s affecting so many people,” she said, “I can’t even imagine how much a cure would help.”
On World Diabetes Day during her sophomore year, Fowler invited students, faculty, and even the president of the college to dress in blue and create the symbol for diabetes awareness, a blue circle, on the football field. 120 people came and local newspapers covered the event. A 9-year old girl with diabetes from Danvers, MA, even sent a letter to Fowler after reading about it in the newspaper.
Fowler is not only committed to raising money for a cure; after she graduates, she will work as a full-time teacher for kids with autism on the North Shore. But she won’t stop raising awareness after she leaves Endicott; she hopes to organize another event on the next World Diabetes Day.
And like Fowler, difficult events in O’Bryan’s life inspired him to help others.
“I had a cousin who got in a car accident,” said O’Bryan. “After that, public safety in general, helping people, has always been an interest of mine.”
O’Bryan started volunteering in Vermont during high school, and the same night he applied, the station received a call for a car accident. He went along to help, and has been involved ever since.
A business major with a concentration in accounting, O’Bryan works part-time at Gorton’s of Gloucester, MA, a frozen fish foods company where he’ll move to a full-time position after graduation. But he is also considering working as a full time firefighter in the future.
“As a volunteer, if you’re busy, you aren’t required to go,” O’Bryan said. “But if I’m free, I’m going to do everything I can to get there.” O’Bryan responds to about eight to ten emergencies a week.
David Barrett, 24, of Essex, MA, O’Bryan’s best friend who’s also a volunteer firefighter, described O’Byran as “composed.” But sometimes, O’Bryan said, it takes him a while to be at peace with results.
“One of my first fires that I went to, there were two fatalities, one of them was a child,” said O’Bryan. “It took me a couple days to understand what happened and realize that’s kind of part of the job.”
Yet, like Fowler, O’Bryan knows the hard things won’t stop him from volunteering.
“If anything, it pushes me to work harder and train harder,” he said. “Your job is to do the best you can.”