Choose your own adventure

This past weekend we held our 5th annual event in Chicago. When I say that to people, I’m not really sure they understand what that actually means. For over five years, Girls With Guts has been putting on live, in-person events that bring together adult women living with IBD and ostomies. I want to take a quick minute to appreciate what that means and how we got here. I can honestly say that creating and running GWG has been the thing that I am most proud of. Girls With Guts came into my life when I needed a purpose. I needed support. I needed a way to turn all of my heartbreak and sadness into something good. And I did. Actually, we did. We did it together. It has taken me a long time to be able to look back on the last five years and say, “Yea, I helped make that and it’s quite remarkable.”

Five years ago GWG started with a simple website and bracelets that I hand stamped. Let me say that again….I hand stamped every single bracelet we ever sent! Hundred of bracelets. But those bracelets gave us the funding we needed to get off the ground. Later we got a $5,000 grant from Wayne State University and never looked back. I’m so thankful that people bought those bracelets. If that was you, thank you. I promise we put your $15 to good use.

This organization has changed quite a bit over the years. We’ve added programs and dropped others. We’ve tried to adapt to the needs and wants of our clients. I’ll admit it hasn’t always been easy. When people wanted privacy from posting their questions on Facebook, we built a private forum. But no one used it. When that didn’t work, we built a mobile app. No one used that one either. So we caved and created a private Facebook group which is now thriving with over 2,000 members. The business of being a non-profit means being flexible. It’s a lot of trial and error. We haven’t always gotten it right, but damn we tried hard.

If you’ve ever attended one of our events, you know my catchphrase: “Choose your own adventure.” Girls With Guts has been the most rewarding and challenging adventure I’ve ever been on. I’ve made a lot of choices on this adventure for the last five years to get us where we are today. Today we’re in a place where we’ve become a reliable source of information and support for IBD patients and their families. I’d say we’ve made it.

For five years I’ve been making choices for GWG to get us to where we are today and now it’s time to start making some choices for myself. After endless hours of contemplation, numerous pros and cons lists and anxiety-filled sleepless nights, I’ve decided that I’m choosing a new adventure for myself. I’m ready to start a new chapter of my life, one without Girls With Guts, but one where I put my health first. Although Girls With Guts will no longer be an item on my perpetual to-do list, it will always be in heart, surrounded by the laughter, tears, and incredible stories of people I’ve met along this journey.

I’ll be leaving this organization with nothing but love in my heart and gratitude for everyone who has believed in me and Girls With Guts. I’m grateful for Board of Directors who will continue on with the work that we’ve been doing. Thank you to everyone who has donated their time and money, to everyone who has given advice or expertise, to our clients who believe what we do is important, and to everyone who has ever said “thank you.”

Until we meet again,

- Jackie Zimmerman