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JDRF makes the ‘Smart’ choice: Honoring Mike and Lisa Smart



The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) has chosen to honor one of its own at its upcoming annual fundraiser, Mystique ~ 2011 JDRF Vision Gala , Saturday, April 30 at the Reno Ballroom in Reno, Nev. Mike Smart, executive director of generation strategy at NV Energy, and his wife Lisa have been selected as this year’s Gala Vision Honorees. To back him up NV Energy Chief Executive Officer Michael Yackira and Senior Vice President Jeff Ceccarelli have stepped up to serve as the event’s gala chairs.

“Mike, Lisa and his family have been long time passionate supporters of JDRF,” Ceccarelli said. “Serving at the local, state and national levels, Mike has committed time and energy to help provide funding for researchers that will ultimately find a cure for this awful disease.”

Smart was a young substation supervisor when his son Bobby was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age two. Back then, there weren’t the sophisticated methods of monitoring insulin levels like they have today. It was a very invasive, painful process that had him and his wife at their wit’s end.

“It breaks your heart to see your children in pain,” Smart said. “We would have sold everything we had and gone deep into debt to cure him.”

Smart got busy researching the disease and learned about the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (“Research” was added to the name later). Realizing there was not an organized branch of the organization in northern Nevada, he coordinated with several other parents of child diabetics to form a local branch in 1995. That first year they organized a fundraising walk, what is known today as the “Walk To Cure Diabetes.” With the help of many volunteers and fundraising by Larry Tuntland of First Interstate Bank, the group was able to raise $35,000 to go toward research to help find a cure. The next year, Smart got the then-CEO of Sierra Pacific Power Walt Higgins involved and they doubled the amount raised.

In 1997 Smart was named the first president of the northern Nevada branch of JDRF, and in the years since has witnessed its growth from a small group of a half-dozen concerned parents to the fundraising juggernaut that it is today. JDRF still puts on the walk every October raising between $250,000 – $300,000 annually. The gala was added some years later, and is now regarded as one of the three biggest fundraising events of the year in northern Nevada, raising anywhere from $350,000 to over $500,000 annually.

This year, the northern Nevada JDRF branch expects to hit the $10 million mark for total fundraising and thought it appropriate to honor one of its own.

“Mike has meant more to this organization than just about anyone else,” said Molly Dillion, JDRF branch manager. “And we are thrilled to have NV Energy’s involvement. They’ve been there for us since day one and Michael and Jeff are looking forward to helping pay tribute to Mike and what he has helped to create in the community.”

“As a direct result of the Smarts’ efforts, NV Energy annually has employees and teams that raise funds through the walk, and we’re excited to do whatever we can to raise funds and awareness for this year’s gala,” Ceccarelli said. “I cannot think of more deserving recipients for this year’s award than Mike and Lisa.” Since the branch was founded, NV Energy’s donations total over $264,000.

The Smarts’ son Bobby is now 23 and is a project engineer for Granite Construction Company in Reno. Smart looks fondly at the photo of his family (four kids in all) and shakes his head at how far the little branch he started has come. “I certainly couldn’t have done it without NV Energy or my fellow employees pulling together with me,” he said, referring to the staggering $10 million threshold. “That to me is especially humbling.”

This year’s gala, Mystique, the 2011 Vision Gala, is Saturday, April 30 at the Downtown Reno Ballroom. To reserve a table to this year’s gala or for sponsorship or silent auction contributions call 775-786-1881 or log on to www.JDRF.org/northernnevada.

JDRF is the leading charitable funder and advocate for research on type 1 diabetes and its complications. Type 1 diabetes strikes children suddenly, making them dependent on injected or pumped insulin for life. It carries the constant threat of devastating complications including blindness, amputation, kidney failure, doubles the risk of heart disease or stroke and shortened life expectancy. JDRF drives the diabetes research portfolio, funding more than any other non-governmental agency in the world.

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