The Kiss-a-Pig campaign is personal to Mimi Hayes.
The longtime Effingham County educator is spearheading this year’s local American Diabetes Association campaign fundraiser. She also has been diagnosed with diabetes, and to Hayes, she’s not the one who should be front and center leading the fight against diabetes.
This was supposed to be her sister’s spot as the Effingham candidate for Kiss-a-Pig. Hayes’ sister Ramona Lovett, who was principal at Ebenezer Middle School, died from complications in September 2011.
“This means so much to me,” Hayes said. “When my sister was at home the last few months of her life, we were talking about what she could do because she was not going to be able to continue in her position as principal at Ebenezer Middle. I told her there was plenty that you could do. You could become the spokesperson for ADA, and look at me. So I tell everybody I’m just standing in for her. This was supposed to be my sister doing this. So this means everything to me.”
Playing upon the television show “Homeland,” Hayes and her “Central Intelligence Agency” team are competing as “Hamland.”
Hayes was diagnosed with diabetes at 34 years old. She takes metformin and she also takes shots.
“I’m trying to manage my diabetes with healthy eating,” she said. “So I try to watch what I eat, what time I eat, how much I eat.”
Exercise also is central to combating diabetes’ effects. That, Hayes admitted, hasn’t been as easy to include in her regimen.
“I haven’t conquered exercise yet,” she said with a laugh. “You would think I would be on top of that, being a coach’s wife. I would love to find a way to get that into my schedule, because that’s key.”
Effingham has had a team in the Kiss-a-Pig competition for five years, and Dana Wright won the right to smooch the pig after her team raised the most money in its division. The ADA had separated the Savannah-Chatham School System and the Liberty County teams into their own division because of their fundraising prowess.
“I’m just so excited to be here, to be my sister’s voice,” Hayes said after Saturday’s kickoff event in Savannah’s City Market. “And I just hope I am able to help Effingham County be as successful as it has been in the past.”
Raising money and more
For the next three months, seven teams from Effingham, Chatham, Liberty and Bulloch counties are raising money through various events for the American Diabetes Association. Hayes’ Hamland team members include ECHS colleague Hank Heller and fellow education professionals Wright, R. Glenn Smith Jr., Joan Hightower, Eleasha Donaldson, Susan Lancaster, Kate Blake, Sherri Walsh, Melissa Roddenberry, Regina Blewett, Martina Morris and Latoya Jones.
That’s at least one representative from nearly every school in the county.
“They’re very giving,” Hayes said of the students, teachers and others who make up the school system’s effort. “I appreciate everyone for their drive, their passion and for the love that they have for this cause, and for everything they’re doing to help make this Kiss-a-Pig campaign a success.”
To Hayes, the campaign is more than just raising money for treatment and research into a possible cure. It’s also about raising awareness about how prevalent diabetes is and what can be done to combat it.
“It takes a lot of discipline,” she said. “But the more that we try to make people aware of the debilitating effects diabetes has, I think the more people will listen. So many of our loved ones have this. More people in our county than we are of.”
Hayes said 11 percent of the population in Effingham has diabetes, and one of those was Jeff Rollins, the beloved and widely-respected First Baptist Church of Springfield pastor who died in a car wreck last month.
“It affects more people than we know,” she said. “There are a lot of our loved ones and our students and our teachers and our pastors who have been affected by this disease. We just have to get the word out. Through awareness, we can find a way to manage this disease. But you have to find out if you have it. That’s key, that’s most important.”
According to the ADA, approximately 7 million Americans have diabetes but they haven’t been diagnosed. Diabetes is the fifth-leading cause of death in the nation, resulting in more than 220,000 fatalities each year.
“The more we increase awareness, we can find a cure. A cure is on the way — I believe that in my heart,” Hayes said. “I hope and pray I can see it in my lifetime. So many discoveries have been made because of what we have been doing — the insulin pump, the home glucose monitor, the services we need in order to manage our disease.
“We can’t do without this campaign. We need everyone’s help. You just never know when that help you’re providing is going to come back and help you in the long run.”
The campaign evokes to Hayes the story of the starfish. In that story, Hayes explains, a little girl walks along the shore, tossing starfish back into the ocean. A boy asks the girl what she is doing, because she will never save all of those starfish. She looks at him and tosses another starfish back into the water.
As she does so, she tells him she might not save every starfish, “but I can save that one. And so that’s what we’re doing with Kiss-a-Pig,” Hayes said. “We’re saving lives, one at a time.”
2014 Kiss-a-Pig teams
Hamland (Effingham County)
Savannah Boar Association (last year’s winners and Savannah lawyers and friends)
Phi Pigma Kappa (a sorority of women business leaders)
Pig Dynasty (representing Statesboro and Bulloch County)
Liberty County Schools and Friends
Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools
Find Kiss-a-Pig on Facebook at Insta Ham, on Twitter at instaHAM_2014 and Instagram at instaham2014.