When my son was diagnosed with celiac disease about two years ago, I could not have told you anything at that time about gluten.
I was that guy; the one in the grocery store who just walked by the designated aisle and automatically associated the gluten-free products with other “trend” diets such as South Beach and Atkins. Gluten-free meant nothing to me until my 12 year old started to develop symptoms that doctors couldn’t provide answers for. After four months of constant pain and his personal plea to me to “make it stop”, my mindset changed.
|Chris Rich, right, and his son|
Now, being gluten-free is a way of life for our whole family. My wife and I have been tested for celiac and despite our results being negative, we all sit down to the same gluten-free meal at our dinner table. Our kitchen received an “upgrade” to avoid cross-contamination from past meals cooked, my son is again “healthy” (putting on 5 inches and 20 pounds since being diagnosed), and I am now fortunate enough to help his cause personally through my employment with an organization that has been advocating gluten-free for the past 41 years.
Last summer, my son was privileged enough to attend a gluten-free camp sponsored by GIG. This was prior to my employment so, as a parent, I didn’t know what to expect. My son was going to be dependent on someone else for all of his meals for the first time since his diagnosis and, honestly, I was a little worried. That week at camp turned out to be the highlight of his summer and, arguably, one of the best experiences of his life. Along with meeting new friends and trying new activities, he went the entire time without having to think about his restricted diet. The smile on his face, the emotion that he had when that week was over; those are memories that will stick with me forever. And those are the memories that I want other parents to have. I want them to see that look on their child’s face; their smiles created from getting to spend some time just being a kid. That is the reason that GIG has created Generation GF.
Generation GF is a program of the Gluten Intolerance Group that was created to build confidence in all persons who need or choose to live a gluten-free lifestyle. We are initially focusing our efforts on kids, teens, and young adults and helping to develop them into the future gluten-free leaders of our community. We want the youth to embrace who they are and become their own advocates. We also want to provide parents and families a place and a program that they can turn to for the answers that they seek about living gluten-free. We are achieving these goals through the establishment of Generation GF Groups nationwide, providing education to our school systems and universities, and developing relationships with summer camps throughout the country so gluten-free kids have a chance to make their own life-changing experiences. This summer, we are able to provide gluten-free “bunk boxes” and information through the Generation GF program to approximately 1,500 campers in ten different states. We look to expand these numbers in the years to come, as well as providing Celiac mentorship opportunities and teen leadership development to these wonderful kids.
I welcome anyone who wants to learn more about Generation GF, and ways that we are helping these gluten-free youth in creating their own “voice”, to contact me at email@example.com. As a program, we are just in our infancy stages and, already, the interest levels in creating this special place and opportunity for these families is both humbling and inspiring. I am excited to see where we can take this, how many kids we can reach, and how many more smiles we can make.
Chris Rich is the Vice President of Development for the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), www.gluten.org. When he's not busy thinking of new and innovative ways to help the gluten-free community, you can find him at the local sporting venue coaching and supporting his two kids.
Posted on WholeFoodsMagazine.com 6/3/2015