Teen Program Staff
Alanna Landry RN, CDE, has been working as a pediatric diabetes nurse educator for 18 years at Markham Stouffville Hospital in Ontario, Canada. She has the privilege of working with 450 families with type 1 diabetes. After attending her first CWD FFL conference in 2004 she was hooked on the incredible experience and wants to continue to share this experience with the wonderful people she has met and encourage as many families as possible to attend. Working with the teen program has been something she looks forward to each year.
Marissa Town, BSN, RN, CDE, graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and later earned her Certified Diabetes Educator credential. She has had type 1 diabetes since the age of two and has grown up with a passion for helping families living with diabetes. Marissa works as a clinical diabetes specialist at Tandem Diabetes Care with a focus on young adults and optimism. She has always enjoyed working with families with diabetes at Children with Diabetes conferences, camps, and support groups. She and her husband Adam have two young children, Connor and Everly.
After having spent years on the sideline as the "spouse" of one of the faculty members, Neil Benchell decided it was time to get involved with CWD and Friends for Life®. As one of the Teen Staff members, Neil is always in the thick of trying to make the conferences a more memorable experience for all. In addition to his work with CWD, Neil is an attorney practicing in the area of intellectual property litigation, and has represented a number of diabetes-related organizations.
Justin Abel attended his first CWD conference in 2002 after his daughter Sailor was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in December 2001 at age 2. Once he started attending more CWD conferences, his wife Sunshine did not have to twist his arm for him to realize he wanted to get more involved. Justin has been volunteering at CWD conferences since 2006. He is also dad to Sierra, who is a young adult volunteer with CWD.
Noor Alramahi, 29 years old, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of six and proud mother of two-year-old old twin boys, Rakan and Kareem. She served as a volunteer at her local hospital in the United Arab Emirates, helping newly diagnosed children and their families. Since moving to the San Francisco Bay area in 2012, she has volunteered with the American Diabetes Association in San Jose and works with an organization called Carb DM, that provides support and education for people and families living with Type 1 Diabetes. She is also part of a local Bay Area type 1 diabetes group called Sugar Mommas that offers support for women in the family planning, pregnancy and motherhood phases. Noor has attended Friends for Life Orlando for nine years and counting!
Mike Avery has lived an exciting a Hollywood life since his diagnosis with diabetes in 1993. At the age of three, dressed as a trouble-making troll, Mike became the youngest stunt performer in the industry. By age 12, he was a precision driver able to intentionally spin and crash his car. Since then, Mike has made a career of crashing cars, falling off of buildings, and getting set on fire. He has jumped from bridges, helicopters, and airplanes pretending to be some of Hollywood’s biggest names. He has over 100 film, television, and commercial credits and is known for his work on Titanic (1997), The Prestige (2006), Ocean’s 13 (2007), The O.C., Hannah Montana, Grimm, and Horrible Bosses (2011) among others. A lifelong athlete, Mike more recently became interested in sprint distance triathlons. In 2015, he completed his first full Ironman as part of Riding on Insulin’s Endurance Team, which included 40 other athletes with diabetes. His advocacy efforts leading up to the Ironman helped Mike realize his true passion – educating and encouraging fellow people with diabetes. Mike finds that staying active, using an insulin pump, and a strong support system have helped him lead a healthy and exciting life. His athletic commitments in 2016 include three full Ironman races, several half-marathons, and sprint races around his hometown of Los Angeles.
Chris Birri graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in mechanical engineering. He works as a design engineer in the Cincinnati region. In his spare time he enjoys hiking and camping with his new dog, Norbert, and girlfriend Kathryn. This will be his second year in the teen program and he looks forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones.
Kevin Covais is an actor, singer, and diabetes advocate. He is most recognized as a Top 12 Finalist on the fifth season of "American Idol", which aired in 2006. On the show, Kevin was mentored by several award-winning recording artists including Stevie Wonder and Barry Manilow, and he placed 11th overall. Since his "Idol" days, Kevin has transitioned into acting. His credits include a lead role in the 2008 MGM comedy, "College", a supporting role in the family film, "Touchback", starring Kurt Russell, as well as a role in 2014's summer blockbuster, "Transformers: Age of Extinction". Kevin has also made several television appearances including a guest star credit on the FOX show, "Raising Hope". Disney Channel fans know Kevin best as Victor Deleseur on the hit show, "Good Luck Charlie". Kevin was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 11 and has worked with the Diabetes Research Institute for many years. He is thrilled to be a part of Children with Diabetes again after making his first CWD appearance in 2006.
Marilyn Fry, RD, CDE is a registered dietitian at Markham Stouffville Hospital. Marilyn has been working with children with type 1 diabetes for 23 years. Her areas of interests include toddler feeding and exercise management. She is kept active and busy outside of work raising her two teenage daughters. Marilyn has a family history of diabetes but does not have diabetes herself.
Brian Grant, BSN, RN, CDE, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2002. He loves working with people who have diabetes, and is looking forward to his 7th Friends for Life Orlando conference. He currently resides in King of Prussia, PA, and works as a CDE at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia with a focus on diabetes technology.
Russ Johnston has two people near and dear to him that have type 1, and has been coming to CWD and Friends for Life Conferences since 2015. Russ graduated from Marquette University in 2015 from the School of Education and is currently a high school math teacher in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. Russ is very excited for his first year on staff and could not be more ready to help make the CWD conference a great experience for everyone.
Alyssa Kyllo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of seven, two years after her younger brother, Chad. Alyssa's FFL experience began in Pasadena in 2002, and has continued ever since. At the age of eight, she started attending Camp Kakhamela (a D-Camp in British Columbia), and continued through their leadership program to become a camp counselor at 17 years old. She is now 26 years old, living in Kamloops, B.C. with her dog Blue and working full time for the Kamloops & District BC SPCA. She is an avid Curler in the winter season and a certified Narcotics Dog Handler. Alyssa is thrilled to be working with CWD again this year!
Hannah Lambert, BSN, RN, age 24, received her nursing degree from Quinnipiac University and works at Florida Hospital Memorial on the Surgical Progressive Care Unit. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 12 years old in 2005. Ever since, she has attended the annual Friends for Life Orlando conference to stay updated on new research and technology. Hannah grew up on the east coast of Florida and loves traveling, photography, volleyball, adventure, and helping others. This is her third year volunteering with the teens and she is very excited to be back!
Sarah Loebner, age 24, was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 9 1/2 in 2002. She attended her first CWD Friends For Life conference exactly a month later, and has returned every year since. With a B.A. in Human Biology from Scripps College, she is currently working at Stanford on pediatric diabetes research. Eventually, she would like to become a physician's assistant and a CDE. She spends her free time singing, gazing lovingly at her dog Sheba, and giving free, unlimited hugs. Sarah is so glad to be a member of the CWD staff that gave her so much support, love, and confidence as a younger CWD participant, and she is so excited to make more Friends For Life at this year's conference!
Jesse Nagel, BSN, RN, 25, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 9 1/2 years old. He graduated from Nursing School at D'Youville College in Buffalo, and currently works full time as an RN on a Stroke/Cardiac Step-down Unit at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo NY. He has traveled to Washington, DC, as an advocate with the JDRF Children's Congress and the ADA Call to Congress, and will continue meeting with his representatives until a cure is found. He has attended every FFL Orlando since 2003 as part of the elementary, tween, and teen groups. The last three years he has worked closely with the teen programming staff and cannot wait for FFL 2017 to start!
Hannah Opdenaker is excited to wear a green bracelet again this summer with some of her favorite "diabesties". Hannah was diagnosed with Type 1 at age 3 in 1999, and has been attending CWD conferences since 2001. She is a third year Theatre and Political Science double major at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. When she's not on stage dancing or acting, she is probably snuggling a dog or writing on social justice issues for her school's paper, The Mountain Echo. After she graduates college, she plans to pursue a Master's Program in Theatre Education and take the gifts she's been given and travel around the world to teach kids that nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams - especially a chronic illness.
Ernie Prado serves as a Special Projects and Super Guppy Sustaining Engineer in the Aircraft Operations Division at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Previously he worked at the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF) where astronauts train prior to spaceflight. At the SVMF, he led projects to create, maintain, and upgrade full-size International Space Station trainers and mockups that astronauts use during the course of their careers. In addition to his work at NASA, he is involved in manufacturing large-scale 3D Printers. Ernie holds Bachelor of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering & Aeronautical Sciences and Engineering from UC Davis. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 15 and has been on an insulin pump since 2011. While wearing an insulin pump and CGM, Ernie has achieved 8Gs in a centrifuge during an Aeromedicine study.
Tween Program Staff
Sarah Melendez, BSN, RN, mom to Brady, diagnosed in 2004, resides outside of Philadelphia. They have been attending Friends for Life® conferences since 2005 and have made Children with Diabetes® an integral part of their lives. She earned her Bachelors of Science in Nursing at West Chester University. Sarah currently works as a Research Nurse for Medical Oncology and Phase 1 Clinical Trials at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, PA.
Kenny Rodenheiser, BSN, RN, CDE, was diagnosed with diabetes in 2003. Through his involvement with CWD, ADA, JDRF and other local organizations, he realized his passion is to help people with diabetes learn about their disease and how to cope with it. He earned his Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Ramapo College of New Jersey. Kenny earned his Certified Diabetes Educator in 2015 and currently works as a diabetes educator for Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Melissa Geren was diagnosed with diabetes when she was four. She went to her first Friends for Life® Orlando Conference in 2003 and has been attending Friends for Life® conferences ever since. Melissa has three siblings, Sarah, Kayla, and Matthew. Matthew also has type 1 diabetes. Currently, she works on the Marketing Team for Fannie May Confections in Chicago. Melissa looks forward to working with Tweens at Friends for Life Conferences each year.
Grace Grande-Cassell is very excited to be staffing her sixth year of CWD conferences! She has grown up with a connection to type 1 diabetes because of her grandfather, who was diagnosed at age 14. Grace currently lives in New York City where she works in the fashion industry. She is so happy to be helping at another conference.
Deb Ruppert looks forward to meeting and being inspired by the incredible tween team each year. Outside of Children with Diabetes, she is a strategic marketing consultant for healthcare companies and enjoys cooking, college basketball and football, and her four-legged fur baby.
Amanda Borges is a Miami, Florida native who moved to New York in 2011 to attend New York University's Film and Television Production program. Since Graduating in 2015, she now works at NBCUniversal's Bravo Network, and lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend Ben Stroud, who was diagnosed with T1 Diabetes in 1998. She'll be working with the Tween Staff, and will be assisting with the Docu-Diabetes project.
Martyn Carr, BSc, RN, lives in Scotland and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was five years old. Martyn earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing from The University West of Scotland and currently works with different age groups with diabetes. Martyn would like to become a Diabetes Specialist Nurse (DSN). Martyn met his wife Chelsea at the Friends for Life Conference in Orlando. Martyn has participated in the Friends for Life conferences and the UK Friends for Life conferences for many years. Martyn has worked with the Elementary, Tween and Teen age groups, and he loves helping out and being with his friends at CWD conferences.
Erica Fox, 20, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in January 2004. Erica attended her first Friends for Life conference in 2004 with her family and has never missed a conference since. She is a student at Texas A&M University and is studying to become a Nurse in the hopes of eventually becoming a Diabetes Educator. CWD conferences are the best part of her year and she is very grateful for all the friends she has made at Friends for Life. Erica is extremely excited to work with the tweens and finally have the opportunity to be on staff.
Tina Ghosn is mother to three children with diabetes. She is also an elementary school teacher and a US Veteran. She and her family attended their first Friends for Life Orlando conference in 2007, just months after their first and youngest child was diagnosed with type 1. They have attended FFL six times and each time learned new tricks and made new Friends for Life. Last year marked a turning point for her two oldest teens when the universe aligned and the two warring teens became FFLs while attending the conference. Miracles do happen! While currently living in the Seattle suburbs, she and her family have also lived in Texas and Northern California. When not teaching, playing with her many pets, reading, or hauling kids to various activities, Tina mentors families of newly diagnosed kids, volunteers with a local diabetes camp, and shares tidbits, advice, and humor about diabetes.
Dennis Holterman resides in Jackson, Missouri with his mom, dad, and two younger sisters. Dennis has had diabetes since the age of seven, and has attended the Friends for Life conferences for the past four years, along with a few regional conferences in Toronto, Canada and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Over the past few years Dennis has struggled with managing his diabetes. He hopes that by helping other, younger kids with diabetes and becoming a role model for them, he can also find inspiration and advice to further help himself manage his diabetes.
Danielle Hutchison was diagnosed with diabetes in 2005 at the age of 12. She graduated from Western Carolina University with a degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management in 2016 and is involved in nonprofit organizations in her area. She attended her first Friends for Life conference in 2015 and is excited to get more involved in the CWD community.
Brianne Jeske, RN, is a registered nurse, working on a general surgery floor in Fort Myers, Florida. Her brother was diagnosed with type 1 when he was five. He is now almost 13. Type 1 has definitely changed her family's lives, in a positive way. She has since learned much about type 1 and new technology since her brother’s diagnosis. She attended her first Friends for Life® Orlando conference in 2013, and is very excited to join the tween staff this year!
Rachale Park is a part-time student at University of Central Florida and full time employee for Hilton Hotels. Rachale grew up with a mother who has had diabetes since the age of 11 and a 14-year old brother, who has had type 1 diabetes for 11 years. By volunteering at Friends for Life Orlando, Rachale hopes to help lots of children, both siblings and kids with type 1, learn about diabetes and the diabetes community.
Sarah Pawlowski has three siblings, two with type 1, and has been coming to CWD and Friends for Life Conferences since 2003. Sarah graduated in 2015 from Marquette University with a degree in Elementary Education and Psychology and is currently a Middle School teacher in Milwaukee, WI. Sarah is so excited to work with the Friends for Life tween kids and be a part of the Youth Program Staff this year.
Sara Petit is a Deaf Education teacher and currently pursuing her Master’s Degree at Lamar University to become an Educational Diagnostician. She has a passion for working with children, volunteering, and traveling. She is looking forward to another great year working with the Tween group!
Sean Pitt is dad to four beautiful girls whose oldest was diagnosed with T1D at age three and is now in the teen program. Sean has been coming to FFL with his growing family every year since her diagnosis in 2003. They were all immediately taken in as "family." He and his wife, Lisa, have been volunteering for CWD for many years. He loves helping out wherever he can. Sean is working primarily with the Tweens and with the FFL Support Team this year, so you will see his friendly face all week long!
Jessica Plotts is 22 years old, a graduate of the University of Tennessee and currently employed at JDRF's Middle Tennessee chapter. She was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of five, and has been coming to Friends for Life conferences since 2000. Jessica has attended the ADA Call to Congress multiple times, and is a camp counselor at the ADA’s Camp Sugar Falls every summer. She cannot wait for Friends for Life Orlando 2017!
Lizzie Poe was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 19 and attended her first CWD conference four months later. Lizzie has a degree in psychology and works for Ronald McDonald House Charities. She is active in her local JDRF chapter and prepares the Bags of Hope for newly diagnosed kids. In her spare time, Lizzie enjoys mastering temporary basal rates while she runs.
Jim Stone attended his first Friends for Life® Conference in 2004. His son, Andrew, was diagnosed with type 1 in 1998 at 20 months of age. Jim, his wife Julia, and Andrew have been active in diabetes advocacy since his diagnosis, with a focus on diabetes accommodations at school. Jim, a retired Army officer, lives in Modesto, California and works as a Public Works manager. He has been a Boy Scout leader for many years, and enjoys working with the Tweens.
Elementary Program Staff
Sunshine Abel, LPN, is the mother of Sierra and Sailor. She attended her first Friends for Life® Conference with her family in 2002, after Sailor was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 2. Sunshine immediately knew she had found a new family and a new home where kids were experiencing the same thing as Sailor. She then made it her mission to involve her whole family. Sunshine is continuing her education working toward her RN degree. Sunshine has been working as a nurse and leader in the Friends for Life® youth programming since 2006.
Jen Hanson, BKin, BEd, MEd, has grown up with type 1 diabetes. Diagnosed in 1987, she has never let diabetes stop her from pursuing her passion. Jen’s early beginnings as a campfire-loving, bug-catching, mud-puddle-jumping, tree-climbing tot sparked in her a love for the natural world that has been fostered and grown into a full-blown passion for everything outdoors. Jen has degrees in kinesiology and education and specializes in outdoor and experiential health education. Jen is the Executive Director of Connected in Motion, a Toronto-based charity providing outdoor adventure and sport opportunities for people living with type 1 diabetes.
Monica Lanning is 23 years old and just graduated with a bachelors in biology from the University of Chicago. She is attending Boston University to work on a Masters in Medical Sciences and Clinical Investigation. She previously worked as a research assistant the the Monogenic Diabetes Registry at the Kovler Diabetes Center in Chicago. She loves to get crafty, bake, hike, and travel. Monica has had diabetes for 21 years and has been to every Friends for Life Orlando conference (all 17!) as well as many regionals. She calls her CWD friends "family" and is excited for this year’s "family reunion!"
Timothy Hitchcock is currently studying Physics and Astrophysics at the University of Cincinnati. His older sister Marissa was diagnosed with type 1 in 1989. He began working with the elementary program in 2013 and loves everything about it.
Dylan Boone is from Lexington, Kentucky and is an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2007, and attended the Friends for Life Orlando Conference in 2009 through 2013. Dylan continued to be active after he was diagnosed. He grew up playing sports and recently got his certification for recreational scuba diving. He made some life-long friendships at the FFL conferences he attended and is very excited to be a part of the FFL elementary staff.
Lilliana Calero has attended Friends for Life for the past six years, supporting her sister, and she states that she has ‘loved each year even more than the last.’ Lilliana is a freshman at Florida State University, majoring in Biology with the hope to one day be a veterinarian. She can't wait to make others fall in love with CWD like she did!
Chelsea Carr has grown up around diabetes; her brother Jeremy was diagnosed in 2000. She attended her first Friends for Life conference with her family in 2003 and has been to many CWD regional and annual conferences since that time. It was through the FFL conferences that she first met her husband, Martyn. Chelsea now lives in Glasgow and recently completed her masters degree in history at the University of Edinburgh. She loves working with kids and has worked as a dance and acrobatics teacher for young children. She is also an aerialist and spends all of her free time hanging from the rafters on a trapeze!
Adrianne Cornette is a fourth year student at the University of Cincinnati. She's been attending CWD since 2008 and can't wait to be on staff this year! She aspires to be a pediatric endocrinologist and loves to work with kids. Here's to another year of great memories!
Amanda Coschi, BScN, RN, has lived with type 1 diabetes for 13 years. A graduate from McMaster University with a BScN in Nursing, Amanda now works with Animas Canada in pump training and education. She has been involved with the Diabetes Hope Foundation as a mentor and Alumnus. Amanda recently spent her 12th summer at Camp Huronda, where she worked her way up from camper, to staff, to camp nurse. When not working towards completing her CDE she can be found participating in Connected in Motion events.
Michelle Dao is 22 years old and studies nursing at the University of Cincinnati. She is involved in a nursing leadership group and the National Student Nurses' Association that provides academic support, advising, leadership and professional development and socialization initiatives. Michelle is also involved in undergraduate research through UC's College of Nursing. Michelle first helped staff childcare at Friends for Life Orlando 2015 and will be working with the elementary kids at this conference.
Emilee Fairchild is a 20 year old soccer player who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age seven. Her first FFL conference was in 2006, and this is her seventh! Since diagnosis, Emilee has traveled to Washington, DC, as the Kentucky Delegate for JDRF Children's Congress. She is also a JDRF youth ambassador and recently participated in her first JDRF Ride to Cure cycling event. Emilee has made so many special friends at FFL and she loves seeing them again each year. She enjoys being part of the elementary staff! Emilee says, "I love CWD and all they do for me and so many others, and I can't imagine a summer that doesn't include this conference!" Emilee graduated high school with a certification in nursing and is currently a full time college sophomore majoring in nursing and pre-med.
Lynet Fox is the mother of three girls, Marisa (24), Jessica (22), and Erica (20) and Granna to Carter (3). She attended her first Friends for Life Orlando conference in 2004 after Erica was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. She has not missed a Friends for Life Conference since first attending. Her daughter Jessica was diagnosed in December 2010 at the age of 16. Lynet currently is a stay at home grandma. The entire family looks forward to conference in Orlando each summer. She has volunteered in different capacities at Friends for Life conferences over the past ten years.
Marisa Fox, BSN, RN, is a graduate of East Texas Baptist University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She is now an acute care nurse in Portland, Oregon. She is the oldest sibling to two sisters, Jessica and Erica, both living with type 1 diabetes. Marisa attended her first Friends for Life Orlando conference in 2005 and has enjoyed being able to attend many since.
Josh Guidie is studying Sports Management at Canisius College in Buffalo New York. He is a volunteer firefighter and an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Josh has been a volunteer with his local JDRF chapter and a delegate in Children's Congress. He was diagnosed with type 1 in 2004. Josh and his family attended Friends For Life Orlando from 2009 through 2014, and he recently volunteered as elementary staff at the FFL Canada 2015 and FFL Falls Church. He enjoys working with the Elementary team and is looking forward to working with the kids once again in Orlando!
Kara Hunsche has been living with type 1 diabetes since February 23, 2001. She attended her first Friends for Life Orlando conference in 2003 where she found true Friends For Life. Kara is proud to say she was the first child at Cincinnati Children's to go untethered. She is so excited to work with the FFL elementary kids.
Chris Joynes, BSN, RN, attended her first Friends for Life Conference after her daughter Molly was diagnosed with diabetes in March 2005 at the age of six. She has been a pediatric emergency department nurse for 14+ years and loves working with kids. She is also mom to Andrew, Elizabeth and Benjamin who have grown up with CWD. Chris is excited to begin working with the childcare group again this year!
Rebekah Macon, RN, is mom to three rather wonderful people (in her admittedly biased view). She earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Child Psychology, and recently completed an RN degree. She enjoys providing patient care in a local hospital. She was thrust into the world of T1D when her eldest son was diagnosed at age four, and has been volunteering/attending Friends for Life since 2008. Her family agrees that making invaluable connections at Friends for Life is a definite silver lining for grappling with this disease!
Sarah Martin is 19 and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 11 in July 2009. Her first Friends for Life Orlando Conference was exactly one year later in 2010 and she has been attending ever since. Sarah is attending Niagara University to study nursing, specifically pediatric nursing. She is looking forward to applying what she learns as a volunteer this year to her future career. Sarah is thankful to FFL for the many friends she has made and for giving her the opportunity to learn and grow. She is excited to work with the elementary kids this year to pass along the knowledge she has gained and her commitment to perseverance.
Ethan Mattingly is 19 and from Louisville, Kentucky. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 10 months old. Ethan and his family attended the first conference in 2000 when he was two years old. He and his family have been to all the Friends for Life Orlando conferences and Ethan has attended many of the regionals. He started in childcare and moved though elementary, tween and teen programs. He will be a junior at the University of Kentucky next Fall. Ethan is very excited to volunteer on the elementary staff and be with his CWD family and friends.
Jeremy Meredith, 23, has had type 1 diabetes for 17 years; he was diagnosed in May of 2000 when he was six years old. Jeremy has been attending Friends for Life Orlando conferences since 2003; this will be his 14th. He received his Associates of Science in Criminal Justice Technology in 2016 and attends St. Petersburg College, working towards his BAS in Public Safety Administration. Jeremy is excited to be elementary staff and to be with his CWD family.
Kayla Pawlowski attends Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI majoring in Elementary Education. She has three siblings - two with type 1 - and her family is from Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Kayla and her family have been attending CWD conferences and Friends for Life Orlando since 2003. She is very excited to be a part of the CWD Youth Program Staff and to have the opportunity to work with the elementary-aged children at Friends for Life.
Zachary Schmidt, 21, was diagnosed in April of 2002 at the age five. With the exception of two conferences, he has attended every Friends for Life Orlando Conference since 2003. Never letting diabetes slow him down, Zachary was always involved in sports (soccer, baseball, football, rugby and competitive cheer) and successfully wrestled with the challenges of diabetes, pumping and intense physical exercise in the Florida heat. Having recently graduated from high school in June, Zachary is now enrolled at Northwest Florida State College, working toward a B.S. degree to support his future goal of a career in the criminal justice field. Zachary is very grateful to CWD and FFL not only for the knowledge and support provided to him and his family, but also for the positive role models who were always present and demonstrated that even with diabetes, you can still achieve many of your goals and dreams. He now looks forward to helping others at Friends for Life, and hopes to be a good role model for the younger kids with type 1.
Marija Vjestica is 23 years old and a graduate of Radford University, where she majored in Psychology and minored in Sociology. She currently works at Primrose School with children between four and five years old. Marija's younger sister, Lana, has had type 1 diabetes for nine years. The family has participated in eight Friends for Life Orlando conferences, and this is Marija's third year volunteering. She is excited to work in the elementary group this summer!
Allison Vlk is from Bay City, Michigan. She is currently an undergraduate student within the Lyman Briggs college at Michigan State University, studying towards a human biology degree on a pre-medical track. In her free time, Allison loves to ski, hangout with her sorority sisters and friends, and watch Spartan football. She’s had type 1 diabetes for 17 years and participated in many Friends for Life Orlando conferences. She can't wait to come back to Orlando, volunteer with the youth program, and make even more friends.
Dylan Weiss lives in Charlottesville, Virginia and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was seven years old. He attends Christopher Newport University located in Newport News, Virginia. Dylan started attending Friends for Life Orlando six years ago following a friend's recommendation. He immediately fell in love with the whole experience. Dylan lives a very active lifestyle with diabetes, and he particularly enjoys basketball and baseball. Dylan states, "CWD has helped me to connect with other people that have diabetes and has helped to me embrace living with it."
Kiraina Young is 24 years old and has had type 1 diabetes for 12 years. She was diagnosed in April 2005, shortly after moving from the Bahamas. She has attended Friends for Life Orlando for the last five years and is very excited to join the elementary staff this year. Kiraina enjoys reading, playing video games, and hanging out with friends and family!
Orange Team (Siblings Staff)
Sierra Abel is the older sister to Sailor Abel, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2001. Sierra attended her first Friends for Life conference with her family in 2002, where she was in the elementary group. She has now worked her way through all the programs, graduating from the teens at Friends for Life Orlando 2011. Sierra graduated from Mercy College in 2016 with a degree in Public Relations focusing on Marketing. She is excited to be a leader of the siblings group and working with friends and family.
Zakariyya Elarbi started attending CWD conferences more than a decade ago, after his twin sister Maryam was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. He knew then that diabetes would forever play an important role in his life. After years of attending conferences as a tween and teen, Zak is thrilled to give back to the CWD community as a leader on the Siblings Staff, working alongside close friends and family. In his free time, Zak enjoys reading, hitting the weights, and catching up on old episodes of Friends. Zak graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in Finance and Supply Chain Management.
Sarah Lanning is a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She attended her first Friends for Life conference at the age of four and has been to almost every FFL since. Sarah loves traveling, playing guitar, cake decorating, crafting and biking. Sarah is ecstatic to give back to the CWD community and continue growing our family.
Erin Randall, RN, CDE, was first introduced to diabetes in 1986 when her sister, at the age of five, was diagnosed with type 1. She has been involved with Camp Huronda, a summer camp for children with diabetes in Ontario, where she met her husband (who happens to have type 1 diabetes). Her passion for giving back has led her to work with an amazing team at Markham Stouffville Hospital in the paediatric diabetes clinic. Erin combines her love of the outdoors and helping others as an ambassador for Connected in Motion.
As a college and semi-professional athlete, James Stroud focuses on exercise and healthy eating habits as an important part of his daily routine. James has been part of the FFL family ever since his older brother Ben was diagnosed with type 1 over 15 years ago. He can't wait to see old friends and meet new ones at this year's FFL Conference. James works for Dexcom as a sales representative.
Kindergarten, Pre-K and Childcare
Mary Babin, RN, BSN, CDE, has served as the childcare coordinator since the very first CWD conference. Mary leads a team of certified diabetes educators providing care and fun in a safe environment for kids under age five with and without diabetes. Providing this service alleviates the concerns of many parents of kids with diabetes – allowing them to attend the sessions with peace of mind knowing that their children are cared for by skilled professionals. This supports Mary's belief that education is the key to successful diabetes management. Mary has devoted her career to the world of medicine. As a graduate of Eastern University and Presbyterian School of Nursing, Mary currently works as a pediatric endocrine specialty nurse and has been a CDE over 20 years! This busy mom and devoted professional has been involved with CWD since 2001. You can spot her at the conferences-she's the one with the trail of kids behind her!
Alex Bush has attended the Friends for Life Orlando conference for the last seven years and she is excited to work in Childcare again! Alex is a graduate from Chico State University, where she participated on the women's golf team and received her Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Child Development. She is currently employed at Dexcom, where she assists new patients. Alex is the fiancee of James Stroud, Siblings Program (Orange Team) Leader.
Helen Rodenheiser, wife of Kenny Rodenheiser, is a first grade teacher at Folsom Elementary School in New Jersey. She has been attending Friends for Life conferences as a Childcare staff member sine 2011. She brings the knowledge and resources she learns from CWD to help any and all children affected by diabetes in her school. Helen is currently working towards earning her Masters in Special Education.
Sailor Abel was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of two. Sailor attended her first Friends for Life conference in 2002 at the age of three. She has worked her way through all of the age groups learning and absorbing all the information she can about type 1 diabetes. Now preparing to attend college, Sailor is so grateful for everything she has experienced growing up through CWD and will take all she has learned with her to help with her day to day diabetes management while away at school. She has made the very best of friends who have become her family through CWD.
Alexa Brenner was diagnosed with diabetes in 1997, and has been attending Friends for Life Orlando conferences since 2006 with her mom, Georgia. Aside from letting her appreciate her inner Disney princess well into her teens, the conferences have allowed her to make some of the best friends for life she could ever hope to have. Alexa is planning on getting her BSN followed by an MPH. She's excited to be on staff and give back to CWD, which has given her so much.
Ella-Mae Campling from Brighton, England, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age four. She attended her first CWD UK conference in 2010, her first CWD Orlando in 2011, and has greatly enjoyed each conference she has attended. Ella-Mae just finished her last year of Performing Arts at Sussex Downs College in Lewes, UK. She is also a JDRF T1 Youth Ambassador and doesn't let type 1 slow her down. In her free time, she works with kids aged 4-18 in performing classes as well as enjoying reading and training animals. Ella-Mae loves the support and relationships CWD has helped create and is so excited to work with the kids this year!
Maura Emery, RD, LDN, CDE, has happily been a FFL Childcare staff member since 2004. Maura has been a CDE for 19 years. She has been able to make her passion for helping people with diabetes a reality by working at Animas for over 15 years. She is currently the Director of Clinical Services, responsible for patient education and training. Maura does not have family members with T1 - but many close friends! Her son, Aidan, was recently diagnosed with celiac disease and the FFL family has already provided tons of support. Maura is looking forward to another inspirational week at FFL.
Parker Grand is excited to be on the Friends for Life staff this year as CWD has given him so much support and friendship over the years. Parker has attended every Friends for Life conference since his diagnosis at the age of three in 2002. Parker lives in California where he attends college full-time. He is employed by the California State Parks where he coordinates youth programs, leads guided tours and develops new programs to teach children an appreciation for the history and ecology of the parks. Parker loves working with children of all ages. In his free time you can find him biking, golfing, and volunteering.
Shelley Grand, mom to Parker, diagnosed in 2002, resides in Southern California. Shelley and her family have been attending Friends for Life Orlando conferences since 2003, and they attribute Parker’s success in managing his type 1 to the knowledge, support and friendship that they have received over the years from attending the FFL conferences. Shelley has been a preschool teacher/director for the past 30 years. She states, “We look forward to attending FFL every year and enjoy being able to give back to a community that has given so much to our family.”
Phoebe Head, age 22, graduated from the London Contemporary Dance School in 2016 after a three-year degree course studying contemporary dance and working with some of the finest choreographers in the world. Attending Friends for Life since 2008, Phoebe is keen to share her experiences and show others that diabetes doesn't stop you following your dreams.
Molly Joynes, 18, was diagnosed with diabetes when she was six. She attended her first Friends for Life conference four months later and has been attending FFL and CWD regional conferences ever since. Molly is the 2nd oldest of four siblings and is currently a biology/pre-med major at California Lutheran University. Molly is excited to be working with kids at the conference who share the same challenges she's faced for the past 12 years. She can't wait to spend time with FFLs both old and new!
Teresa Littlefield, MSN, RN, RNC-MNN, CLC, is mom to Katelyn, diagnosed at age 9, and her sister Jessica. She has been attending conferences since 2006. She started out as a participant, then as a volunteer for many years and became a member of staff in 2013. Teresa currently works with at-risk first time moms and their babies. She also teaches in the clinical setting at a local university. Teresa also volunteers with patients with diabetes in her local community as well as online as part of the Online Diabetes Support Team of JDRF. She plans to earn her CDE credential in the future. Friend for Life offers a lot of support for parents, too, and she is super excited to be back again this year!
Midge McBryant is grandma (Mimi) to Jeremy Meredith (dx'd 5/2000) and to Chelsea and Bailey. She is enjoying retirement after working many years as a real estate paralegal. Midge loves baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays! She has been attending Friends for Life Orlando conferences since 2003 and has been on staff in childcare for the past few years. She enjoys working with the "Little Ones" and is very happy to be a part of the Friends For Life Family!
Luca Missaglia is a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University majoring in Software Engineering. He comes from Italy and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in February 2004. This will be his fourth Friends for Life Orlando conference since 2012. Luca loves working with computers and technology, and he has achieved many certifications in this field. He participated in several diabetes conferences in Italy as childcare staff, and now looks forward to bringing his experience to Orlando!
Lisa Pitt, RN, is mom to four beautiful daughters aged preschool to teens. She and her family began coming to Friends for Life conferences when her oldest was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age three in 2003. She also has been volunteering in childcare since 2010 and loves seeing her "extended family" - CWD. Lisa is a busy full-time mom and full-time cardiac nurse in the acute care setting. She believes ongoing education is the key to successful management of any chronic illness.
Kalyn Schmidt is 22 years old and was diagnosed with diabetes at age 15. She has been coming to Friends for Life Orlando conferences ever since. Kalyn will be entering her junior year of college in Alabama. When she is not at school, she lives in Ohio and loves doing whatever she can to be a positive role model for children living with diabetes. She is excited for the Friends for Life conference this year and can't wait to work with the kids in childcare!
Rhiannon Schmidt, 18, is a recent high school graduate, who plans on attending a university to study medicine with future plans of becoming a surgeon. She attended her first Friend's for Life conference when she was four years old and she and her family have been attending them ever since. Rhiannon has been insulin resistant for 10 years. She looks forward to being staff this year and making new Friends for Life!
Shelby Smith was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age six in 2003. This will be her 13th Friends for Life Orlando conference. She is a senior at Florida Gulf Coast University studying Communication and Marketing. FFL is her favorite part of the year, and she has made the best friendships from these conferences. In her spare time, her favorite activities include traveling, playing guitar, basketball, and Skyping her CWD friends. She is looking forward to bringing her positive attitude and sense of humor to the Youth Program staff once again.
Rebekah Sutherland was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes immediately after her third birthday in 1998, attended her first Friends for Life UK conference in 2010, her first Friends for Life Orlando conference in 2013, and has attended both ever since, now as a member of the childcare team. Bex studies Social Science at Aberdeen College in Scotland with a view to becoming a Diabetes Psychologist and Educator. She is a JDRF T1 Youth Ambassador, and, since she was 13, has delivered many speeches on Life with Diabetes at business lunches, a JDRF Ball, to Oil Industry employees, at fund-raising events, school assemblies and competitions. She also talks to parents of newly diagnosed T1s to show them that despite T1 you can still achieve your dreams and ambitions; she now speaks to the second year medical students at Aberdeen University. In her spare time she is a swimming teacher, loves reading books, swimming, going to the gym, spending time with her dogs and keeping up with her friends wherever they are in the world.
Tracy Watts, RN, diagnosed in 1995 at age 10, is super excited about working with the Friends for Life children this year. It has been her dream and calling to work with diabetic children. She is a new RN graduate from Baton Rouge, LA, and she has plans to pursue her CDE credential. In her spare time, Tracy can be found traveling with her diabetes alert dog, snuggling her pet hedgehog, and volunteering with local JDRF and animal rescue groups.
Megan Wolosky is a sophomore at The University of North Florida, dual majoring in Criminal Justice and Psychology. She has had type 1 diabetes for 16 years and has attended Friends for Life Orlando for the past ten years. In her free time, she enjoys practicing the Israeli Self Defense system called Krav Maga, where she has achieved level four in training. She is thrilled to be part of the childcare program this year!
Friends for Life Orlando 2017 Conference Introduction - Registration - Sponsors - Exhibitors - Convention Center Map - FAQs Información en Español - Registro para la Conferencia - Facultad Sesiones Español - Programa Faculty: Parent & Adult - Youth - Spanish Track - Grandparents - Nightscout - Sports Central - Retinal Screening - CWD Fellows - CWD Staff Conference Schedule: Parents and Adults - Youth - Meet Ups - Childcare Form Reports from 2016 - 2015 - 2014 - 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009 - 2008 - 2007 - 2006 - 2005 - 2004 - 2003 - 2002 - 2001
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