Empowered to Help Others Living With Arthritis

Meet this Arthritis Foundation staff member who grew up with arthritis and gives it her all to help others.

By Anthony Williams | Feb. 16, 2024

Every woman has a story to tell and gifts to share with the world. We want to introduce you to a woman who didn’t realize just how empowered she was until reflecting on her career and marveling at the accomplishments she has seen. Her gift is empowering other women — as well as men and kids — to use their strength and determination to help even more people with arthritis live their best lives.

Jennifer Ziegler of Southern California hasn’t known life without arthritis. Diagnosed with juvenile arthritis (JA) at 9 months old, Jenn had the good fortune to attend Arthritis Foundation JA camps as a child. There, she began learning that she wasn’t alone; that there were many more kids dealing with challenges similar to hers. She also learned how to better manage her disease — and began shaping her destiny.

Joining our local staff as a JA camp director soon after college, almost 20 years ago, Jenn has been a member of our national staff for the past seven years, holding a few different positions. Today, she’s the Arthritis Foundation’s senior director of volunteer partnerships and engagement. In her current role, she works with a multitude of volunteers to make sure each one gets the opportunity to make a significant impact on the arthritis community.

“In a way, arthritis has given me a purpose. I’ve made a career of it,” Jenn says. “At first, I didn’t see my job as unique or different or empowering. But as a woman growing up with arthritis, I look back on my professional opportunities and contributions. I’ve had the chance to meet so many people. I’ve realized that most of my friends who have arthritis are females. We’ve come together, and we support each other.”

Arthritis has given me a purpose. I've had the chance to meet so many people.

Jennifer Ziegler

Proud of So Much Progress

While studies show that women are disproportionately affected by arthritis and associated pain, and they are less likely to get the treatment and support they need, Jenn has observed that they also tend to be outspoken. And their voices are being heard.

“Women have the need to strike back against the injustices and hardships. They often feel empowered to speak out and highlight the strength that's needed to deal with her or her child’s arthritis. When a woman shares her story, no matter the obstacles and challenges, she typically highlights the good things that have happened."

Among those good things, Jenn especially appreciates the Arthritis Foundation’s advocacy successes, having gone to Capitol Hill herself to advocate for arthritis patients, young, old and in between.

“We’re making a difference,” she maintains. “Health legislative officials and their staff listen to us. Which has resulted in a long list of new laws and policy changes that treat arthritis patients and others with chronic illnesses more fairly.”

Jenn is also proud of the organization’s achievements in scientific research. “The biggest accomplishment the Arthritis Foundation supported was the discovery of biologic medication. And that pretty much changed the life of everybody with an autoimmune type of arthritis, including mine,” Jenn points out. “It was right before I was starting college. It was approved for adults. I had just turned 18. And I was able to get on a biologic that enabled me to go to college and have a mainly normal experience, not feeling like I was at a disadvantage from having arthritis.

“Mind you, I had difficulties due to my arthritis. But I also knew that there was this medication that was helping me be able to do normal college student things. And then, within years, additional medications were introduced. And it just got better and better.”

Case in point: What Jenn saw at JA camp as an adult was eye-opening. “When I was a camper, at least 20% of all the kids were in wheelchairs. And at least 10% of them were in their own wheelchairs. By the time I went back as an adult, nobody had their own wheelchair. We had extra wheelchairs at camp if somebody needed them, but most kids did not come to camp with a wheelchair. That was shocking and empowering to me, knowing that the Arthritis Foundation and everyone who supports our work had a big part in making that happen.”

Her Ongoing Passion Is Fueled by the Arthritis Community

Jenn says her ongoing passion for the cause is fueled by the arthritis community. “I’ve been a part of the Arthritis Foundation family for most of my life, going back to my childhood days at JA camp. I’ve been a part of the lives of so many youths who’ve been affected by arthritis, like I have been. And to see them grow up, become adults, get married, have kids — it’s heartwarming when they come back to me and say: ‘It’s because of you that I’ve come so far.’” Jenn pauses to reflect, then adds: “That’s why I get up in the morning.”

Continuing to raise awareness about arthritis is always among Jenn’s top goals. “Forever, it’s been a struggle to get people to realize that arthritis is not just an old person’s disease.

“Anybody can get arthritis. Arthritis does not discriminate. Nobody fits the perfect stereotype of ‘this person is going to get arthritis.’ It doesn’t matter how fit you are; how rich or poor you are; what color your skin is. I’m glad the Arthritis Foundation is here to help them. And I’m thrilled to be part of that.”

Jenn feels she has been empowered to help others. And she’s empowering everyone she meets — and can influence — to do the same. To pass it along, give back and keep the fire burning.

Story of Yes

Say Yes! Share Your Story

One of the most powerful things you can do to help others living with arthritis is share your story. If you have arthritis, care for someone who does or are making an impact in the arthritis community, your experiences can help someone who may feel alone. Whether you're a patient, caregiver, donor, volunteer or researcher — you can be an inspiration by sharing your Story of Yes.

Share Your Story
Say Yes! Share Your Story

Stay in the Know. Live in the Yes.

Get involved with the arthritis community. Tell us a little about yourself and, based on your interests, you’ll receive emails packed with the latest information and resources to live your best life and connect with others.