By Greg Gelpi
One day her grandfather may not be there, said Shaleisha Shepard, 12.
Her grandfather has diabetes, and to help him and others with diabetes she and classmates at Jonesboro Middle School held a March for Diabetes Friday.
About 50 middle school students raised almost $1,500 in the school's first year to participate in the School Walk for Diabetes fund-raiser.
"I know I'm helping somebody," Elizabeth Mobley, 11, said. "I knocked on people's doors I knew and asked for money."
After raising money, Jonesboro Middle students walked around the school's track to raise awareness of diabetes and help instill good habits, said physical education teacher Erin Tidwell, whose family has a history of diabetes.
"Unfortunately, in today's day and age, exercise is last on their list," Tidwell said. "These kids are at extreme risk if they don't start developing good habits, including diet and exercise. At this age, they think nothing can happen to them."
Alysia Collier, 12, was troubled to learn of the seriousness of diabetes and the number of people who have died from the disease.
"I'm going to stop drinking all of the sodas, eating all the candy," she said.
Tidwell said many of her students' diets are heavy on junk food and light on the vegetables.
"The reason we're out here is that there's no cure for diabetes," Tidwell said. "This is something that is near and dear to my heart."
She said that her grandmother and mother have diabetes and that she and her 7-year-old daughter are "destined" to get it.
"I'm trying to find a cure and hopefully save (my mother's) life," Tidwell said.
Type 2 diabetes is "rampant" among middle school-age children, said Nickey White, Jonesboro Middle PTSA president and marketing associate with the American Diabetes Association.
"In order for you to avoid diabetes at this age, you've got to exercise and eat right," White said. "That means no junk food and more vegetables. This is very important. It's an epidemic."
Last school year, more than 1,100 schools participated in the School Walk for Diabetes program. According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 8,920 people in Clayton County have diabetes, and more than 18 million Americans have diabetes.
"It's a chance for the kids to learn about diabetes and healthy lifestyles in a real hands-on way and, at the same time, raise money for an important cause," White said.