Swimmer has raised more than $250,000 since 2004

Published on: January 9, 2019

SCC resident swims for 16th year to help kids with Type 1 diabetes


Sun City Center resident Don Smith will swim 100 lengths in the Sun City Center Community Association pool Feb. 2 in an effort to raise $35,000 for a Diabetes Youth Services fund that provides scholarships for kids needing financial aid to attend special camp.

Although Don Smith and his wife Connie have no children of their own, they’ve “adopted” the cause of raising money to help send scores of kids with Type 1 diabetes to a special camp each year. 

Through the support and donations of countless individuals and organizations, Smith has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for Diabetes Youth Services (DYS) since 2004 by swimming laps for pledges. He will hit the water for the 16th time Feb. 2 and swim 100 lengths of the regulation-size Sun City Center Community Association pool, with a goal of raising $35,000. As of Jan. 2, Smith has received $16,613.73 of that amount.

“Every cent I collect goes to a special fund with DYS that guarantees no kid will ever be denied camp because mom and dad can’t afford it,” Smith said. “The money we raise is used strictly for scholarships.”   

Diabetes Youth Services is an independent nonprofit organization based in Toledo, Ohio, that serves children with Type 1 diabetes and their families. Last year, more than 60 percent of the 176 kids of all ages  who participated in camp required some kind of financial assistance. According to DYS, the Smiths covered that aid.   

Smith, now 70, has had to cut back the number of laps he swims each year; however, that hasn’t stopped the public’s generosity.

“What we’ve found is people who sponsor us could care less about the number of laps I swim,” he said. “They’re donating to the cause. It’s all about the kids.”

“I swim for DYS because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s a passion, and I’ll do it as long as DYS keeps it commitment to us.”

Smith said every dollar people donate matters.

Surrounded by personal friends, supporters and SCC Community Association officials, Don Smith receives a special commendation from Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White on behalf of other commission members for his fundraising efforts on behalf of DYS and children with insulin-dependent diabetes.

“Over the years, the donations I’ve received have ranged from $3 to $2,000,” he added. “Any amount is appreciated.”

Smith, the youngest of eight children, began hitting the pool at age 5. After he graduated high school, he took a break from swimming, earned an undergraduate degree in social work, and then served in the Army until 1973.

He began swimming regularly again while he was studying for his master’s degree in mental health counseling. One day, Smith saw a flyer at a local YMCA that was soliciting participants to swim in a DYS event. It was a fundraiser to send children with Type 1 diabetes to camp.

He signed up and never looked back.

At the time, he was swimming 70 lengths of the pool on a regular basis. But one of his physicians, Dr. Joe Kraska, challenged him to swim 100 for a donation of $100.

“I collected that bet and raised a total of $1,700 that year.”

Smith and his wife Connie have attended many DYS awards nights following camp over the years. They are always moved by how each child is recognized for something he or she learns, like administering their own insulin shots, testing themselves or managing their disease.

“We’ve been to at least eight different camps and seen the wonderful effects they have on these kids,” Smith said. “It makes everything we do so worthwhile.”

Through Jan. 2, Don Smith and his wife, Connie, have raised more than $250,000 to help kids with Type 1 diabetes go to summer camp, where they enjoy all kinds of fun activities and learn how to manage the disease.

For his efforts, Smith has been recognized in a number of ways: Receipt of the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2011; induction into the Senior Citizen Hall of Fame Ohio in 2013; and receipt of the Medical Mutual Gold Medal for Outstanding Volunteerism in 2014. In December 2018, Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White and the Hillsborough County Commission commended him for his work on behalf of DYS and his many years of fundraising for the kids who attend its summer camps.    

Diabetes Youth Services is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit group in both Florida and Ohio. It has served children with insulin-dependent diabetes and their families since 1984. For information on the organization, visit www.dys4kids.org.

To help with this year’s effort, you can make a tax-deductible donation through February by mailing a check (made payable to Diabetes Youth Services) to Donald J. Smith, P. O. Box 6158, Sun City Center, FL 33571-6158. Another option is to make a gift online at www.dys4kids.org/donsmithswim.

For more information on Smith and his fundraising, email dsmith1599@tampabay.rr.com or call 419-796-1275.