The Lemonade Stand

by Evelyn Allen

A tea-party-themed fête set the perfect scene for a birthday on a spring morning in Moraga, California.

Cups and saucers adorned with floral patterns. Giggling little girls wearing wide-brimmed hats bedecked in ribbons and poufs. All delighted the guest of honor and elated her mother. When Sara Williams-Curran, M.Ed. ’03, filled the clattering teacups with lemonade, she watched her daughter, Allie Lou, 6, and her playmates gulp it down—and sighed with relief and pride.

Such a simple act might have gone unnoticed on any other day of celebration. Today, it was cause for joy, as Williams-Curran gratefully welcomed another year of life for Allie Lou after a devastating diagnosis of type 1 diabetes at age 3. Looking back on the journey since, the mother of two can’t help but relate to the well-worn saying, “When life hands you lemons . . . .” Except Williams-Curran didn’t make just any kind of lemonade.

What began in her kitchen as a safe, homemade refreshment for Allie Lou, her brother, Patrick, 4, and the family recently debuted on retail shelves as the first and only all-natural, USDA-certified organic, zero-sugar lemonade juice box for children. “Food is such a personal thing, especially for parents whose children have type 1 diabetes,” said Williams-Curran. “In the process of trying to find and make nutritious food for Allie Lou, I worked on creating this organic lemonade that was not filled with sugar, and I landed on a recipe that was a hit with our neighbors and friends.”

One of those supporters was Williams-Curran’s lifelong friend, Amy Dibianca. The two partnered in October 2013 to form Leaf & Love, working together to bring the original lemonade out of the home kitchen and to 160 Bay Area grocery stores and online retailer Amazon. They focused on maintaining the same simple, pure components that went into the very first batch. “We quickly saw that there was nothing else like this on the market,” said Dibianca. “Sara has incredible taste when it comes to healthy ingredients, and we wound up with the most natural lemonade possible, something that appeals to parents and consumers who look closely at product labels.”

Few examine nutrition facts with more critical eyes than those with type 1 diabetes or their parents. The autoimmune disease occurs unpredictably and poses a constant threat to life, according to Catherine Heinlein, Ed.D., RN, RD, CDE, nutrition and diabetes educator in APU’s School of Nursing. Type 1 diabetes management requires insulin doses, vigilant eating habits, and blood-sugar checks throughout the day and night. “It took me a while to grasp that Sara was as sleep deprived as a mother with a newborn,” said Dibianca. “The full weight of that responsibility falls on the parents, and it’s up to them to keep their child alive.” Amid the delicate balancing act of caring for her daughter, Williams-Curran realized how small conveniences—like a juice box—could have a significant impact for a caregiver or child. “I wanted Allie Lou to still enjoy the simple pleasures in life without jeopardizing her health and wellness,” she said.

Bridging her role as a parent with her experience as a teacher and school administrator of more than 15 years, Williams-Curran said she carries forward a new mission to educate others about type 1 diabetes, while providing parents with a healthier beverage option through Leaf & Love, which plans to expand with new flavors and product offerings. “My calling remains teaching and educating,” Williams-Curran said. “It’s just taken on a different form outside the classroom. My leadership training at APU definitely equipped me for where I am today.” Williams-Curran realized how small conveniences—like a Juice box—could have a significant impact for a caregiver or child.

Williams-Curran sees the Leaf & Love product fitting well within a changing marketplace where consumers increasingly reject food additives and empty calories. Today, many people practice watchful sugar consumption, not just those grappling with diabetes. “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently revised the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans, limiting added sugars to no more than 10 percent of daily calories, down from the previous allowance of 25 percent. The message is that all Americans should reduce their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, and snacks,” said Heinlein. “For someone like Sara, creating this product is about wanting to do the most good for her child and for children everywhere.”

Evelyn Allen is a senior editor in the Office of University Relations. Email her at eallen@apu.edu.

Originally published in the Fall '15 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.