Reality TV stars visit Ohio, raise money for diabetes

Ryan Haidet

More than 20 reality television stars from previous series will be in Cincinnati this weekend to raise money for diabetes research and education.

Fans can meet popular reality stars at any of five separate Reality4Diabetes events.

Tasha Wilkie started the charity, Reality4Diabetes, to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in 2003. This is the fifth Reality4Diabetes she has organized.

“I had attended other charity events, and I thought I could start my own and raise money for diabetes,” Wilkie said.

Reality4Diabetes is especially close to Wilkie’s heart because she has diabetes herself.

“I almost died when I was diagnosed with diabetes in September of 1998,” Wilkie said.

Another reason she started this charity is to educate people about diabetes.

“Many people think that being diabetic means you can’t eat sugar, and that’s it. That isn’t even correct,” Wilkie said.

Reality stars attending this event include several former “Survivor” contestants from various seasons; eight racers from various seasons of “The Amazing Race;” five women from “Starting Over;” and one contestant each from “Average Joe,” “Joe Millionaire,” “The Real World” and “The Mole.”

Dennis Luciani, a former “Average Joe” contestant and a friend of Wilkie’s, has attended three Reality4Diabetes events and will be in Cincinnati. This charity is special to him because diabetes has affected his family.

“A cousin of mine died way too young (from diabetic problems), and my aunt has been living with it now,” Luciani said. “To be able to help raise money to go toward the research and support of those families that have kids who are diagnosed with diabetes is a non-questionable thing for me to do.”

Luciani said he enjoys helping others and encourages others to do the same.

“I know that we all get caught up and trapped in our own lives,” he said. “It’s the best thing to be able to step back when we can and look around to see more of life out there.”

He said the event is not only a good cause – it’s fun too.

“To be able to gather popular reality show stars in one place and have fans come say, ‘howdy,’ is so much fun,” Luciani said.

Jake Billingsley, a contestant from “Survivor: Thailand,” has attended several Reality4Diabetes events. He said he thinks college students would love the chance to interact with people who have been on “Survivor.”

“They can ask all the questions they want and get information from them,” Billingsley said. “Then they can decide if they’d ever want to be on a reality show or not.”

Billingsley said he used to just donate money to charities, but he has found a better way to raise money for charities.

“By pooling resources with other survivors I can contribute much more,” he said.

Wilkie has arranged for more than 150 reality stars to attend the five events, and has raised approximately $18,000 for diabetes education and research.

“A cure (for diabetes) is so close, but without funds, it’s so far,” Wilkie said.

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Contact health reporter Ryan Haidet at [email protected].