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  Back to 2015 Conference Friends for Life 2015 Youth Faculty

Teen Program Staff

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Natalie Bellini, BSN, RN, CDE, has had type 1 diabetes since she was a young child. Within a year of finishing nursing school, she started to care for people with diabetes, focusing first on diabetes in pregnancy then pediatrics and insulin requiring adults. She has worked on the medical side of camps for children and teens in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She has spoken nationally and internationally as an expert in both working with teens and their parents with diabetes as well as infusion set choice, usage and maintenance. Her fundamental goal when developing the teenage curriculum for Children with Diabetes conferences is that each and every teen that attends finds a passion in life and pursues it. She is currently attending university part time in order to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. Natalie works at Novo Nordisk and is mom to Erin.

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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.

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Sam Billetdeaux is thrilled to return to the teen program staff this year after missing FFL for the first time in 2014. Diagnosed at age 8, Sam has always been determined not to let diabetes get in the way of his ambitions. While those ambitions have changed over the years, the determination hasn't. Sam, now 25, lives in Brooklyn with his girlfriend Grace and his FFL Ben, whom he met over 10 years ago on a CWD Youth Ambassador trip to Italy. He enjoys biking with friends, going to the dog park, and seeking out the best pizza/ramen/coffee/brunch in New York!

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Galen Horton was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 15. That summer, at the direction of his healthcare team, he attended a camp in North Carolina for children with diabetes. For the last 24 summers Galen has attended Camp Carolina Trails, working his way up through the program staff. Over the last 17 years, Galen has been a program director for the teenagers at Carolina Trails working to develop leadership and communication skills, fostering a positive mental attitude, and encouraging a strong sense of self-confidence and motivation for his campers through challenging, high adventure programs. Nearly 10 years ago, Galen joined the sales organization at Animas Corporation to marry his work life and his personal passion and commitment for helping others cope with their diabetes. Galen lives in North Carolina with his wife, Kelly, and his 3 children, Tanner, Riley, and Eli.

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Alyssa Kyllo was diagnosed with Type I 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 24 years old and living in Kamloops, B.C., working full time for the Kamloops & District BC SPCA. She is an avid Curler in the winter season and is also pursuing a career as a Narcotics Dog Handler. Alyssa is thrilled to be working with CWD again this year!

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Hannah Lambert is a 22 year old student pursuing a career in Nursing. She grew up on the east coast of Florida and loves to travel. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on May 18th, 2005. Every year she attends the Friends for Life Children with Diabetes convention in Orlando to stay updated on all the new diabetes research and technology. This is her first year volunteering with the teens and also hosting a session about her travels abroad to Cambodia. She loves adventure, photography, volleyball, making videos and helping others!

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Alanna Landry RN, CDE, has been working as a pediatric diabetes nurse educator for 17 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.


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Sarah Loebner, age 22, 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. She just graduated from Scripps College with a major in Human Biology and is pursuing a career as a physician's assistant. She spends her free time singing, thinking about dogs, 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!

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Jesse Nagel, 23, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 9 1/2 years old. He is a senior studying nursing at D'Youville College where he was elected Vice President of the Student Nurses Association. 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. For the last few years he was a staff member with the elementary age children. This year, he is very excited to be a part of the Teen staff!


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Adriana Rodenheiser was born in Bogota, Colombia where she was trained as an architect. She is the mother of Kenny and wife to Ken. Kenny was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2003, and the Rodenheiser’s attended their first CWD conference in 2004. They have been involved as CWD staff ever since. Adriana believes attending Friends for Life conferences gives them the opportunity to meet new people, and become better educated with the latest information in the diabetes world. A high school Spanish teacher, Adriana is working on a masters' degree; she loves working with children of all ages.


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Ken Rodenheiser is a vice-president of specialized equipment market for Aramsco, a national distributor with 18 offices in the environmental, Surface Preparation and Restoration Markets. Ken has worked with the teens since 2004. Every year he looks forward to attending the Friends for Life conference in July, reconnecting with old friends, and meeting new ones.


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Marissa Town, BSN, RN, CDE, graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She has had type 1 diabetes since the age of 2 and has grown up with a passion for helping families living with diabetes. Marissa works in an adult endocrinology clinic with a focus on young adults and optimism. She has always enjoyed working with families with diabetes at CWD conferences, camps and support groups. When she's not spending time with her young son Connor and husband Adam, she's usually playing cards with friends, jogging with her dog Baxter, traveling, or spending time with family.

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Chris Tull became involved with CWD shortly after his son's diagnosis in 2002. He has served as a Legislative Chair for his local JDRF chapter and has been involved with Teen Program and security matters for CWD since his first conference. His son, Trevor, moved through the CWD teen program and is now a successful 25 year old adult managing his own diabetes. Chris credits CWD with helping his son and his family better manage and live with his diagnosis. Chris is a police sergeant in Virginia Beach and a former Marine.

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Charles E. Wiedmeyer DVM, PhD, DACVP is an associate professor of veterinary clinical pathology at the University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbia, Missouri. He earned his veterinary degree and PhD in veterinary pathology from the University of Illinois. In addition, he is a board-certified veterinary clinical pathologist. Dr. Wiedmeyer's specialty is applying technology to better monitor diabetic veterinary patients. His emphasis in this field is working with dogs and cats but has experience with horses, cows and pigs. Dr. Wiedmeyer has published numerous articles and given many presentations regarding the use of continuous glucose monitoring in veterinary patients and is considered the authority on this subject as it relates to veterinary medicine. Besides research, Dr. Wiedmeyer teaches veterinary students and offers leadership mentoring to a wide diversity of individuals within the veterinary profession.

Tween Program Staff

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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.


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Martyn Carr lives in Scotland. He is studying his Bachelor of Science Adult Nursing degree at the University West of Scotland. Martyn would eventually like to become a Diabetes Specialist Nurse (DSN). He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was five years old. Martyn met his wife Chelsea at the Friends for Life Conference in Orlando. Martyn and his family have participated in the Friends for Life conferences and the UK Friends for Life conferences. He has worked with the Elementary, Tween and Teen age groups, and he loves helping out and being with his friends at CWD conferences.


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Kelsey Martin was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 12, and attended her first CWD conference two months later. She's since become an active volunteer and plans any vacation/free time around coming to CWD events. Kelsey remains active with her local JDRF chapter, and was the sole Kansas delegate to the 2007 Children's Congress. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism and business, and works in the public relations industry.


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Sarah Melendez, BSN, RN, mom to Brady, diagnosed in 2004, resides outside of Philadelphia. They have been attending conferences since 2005 and have made CWD an integral part of their lives. A graduate of West Chester University with a Bachelor Degree in Nursing, Sarah currently works at with an orthopedic practice. Along with her passion for Diabetes and her goals to obtain her CDE, Sarah is extensively involved in local and overseas humanitarian aid. She has worked with disaster relief projects in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and has traveled to Haiti for medical trips, working extensively to schedule and finance pediatric orthopedic surgeries.

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Melissa Pawlowski was diagnosed with diabetes when she was four. She went to her first CWD Conference in 2003 and has been attending Friends for Life Conferences ever since. Melissa has three siblings, Sarah, Kayla, Matthew. Matthew also has type 1 diabetes. Melissa graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2013 with a degree in Public Relations and Marketing. Currently living in Milwaukee and working as the Marketing & Communications Coordinator at the Woman's Club of Wisconsin.


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Don Plotts is dad to Jessica, Tyler, Rachel and Annie and husband to Holly. Jessica was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2000, and their lives haven't been the same since. Shortly after her diagnosis, their entire family decided they wanted to make a difference in the lives of people with diabetes. Don served as the Sports Director for a diabetes camp for six years, has run marathons and ridden in Tour De Cures to raise money and also lobbied congress to change policies. In 2006, Don was finally able to tie his passion and career together, joining Animas. After seven years with Animas, Don recently moved to Dexcom where he can continue to help people better manage their diabetes. Don and his family currently reside in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Kenny Rodenheiser, BSN, RN, 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 and currently works for Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey. Kenny is striving to become a Certified Diabetes Educator and hopes to reach that accomplishment within the next two years.


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Deb Ruppert's connection to diabetes began in the 1990's when her dad was diagnosed with type 2 and her uncle with type 1. Deb has participated as Sports Central staff at Friends for Life for several years, and more recently as Tween and Teen program staff. She states, "I feel so lucky to have found CWD and FFL, and I love being able to share what I learn from families who have diabetes as a part of their lives with my own family."

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Adam Town, BSN, RN, is a Registered Nurse who graduated with a Bachelors of Science in nursing from the University of Cincinnati. He currently works in a hospital where he lives in West Chester, Ohio. Adam is a husband to Marissa, who has had type 1 diabetes since she was two, and father to Connor. He has always enjoyed being a mentor and role model for children and loves to help the families at CWD conferences.

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Jenny Vandevelde was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2003. She has a degree in Recreation and Tourism Management from San Diego State University. She currently works for Tandem Diabetes Care in San Diego and spends her weekends snowboarding and wakeboarding. Jenny is part of the Elite Coaches team at Riding on Insulin, where she helps kids with type 1 learn to snowboard. She also loves playing soccer and basketball. Her most recent accomplishment is her third bike ride through Death Valley for JDRF, clocking in at 102 miles and raising $10,000. In October 2008, she ran as one of the 25 Medtronic Global Heroes in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. Jenny attended her first CWD conference in San Diego in 2005 and has been in love with CWD events since then.


Elementary Program Staff

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Sunshine Abel, LPN, is the mother of Sierra and Sailor. She attended her first CWD 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 towards her RN degree. Sunshine has been working as a nurse and leader in the youth programs since 2006.


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Jacob Bodge is 19 years old and has had type 1 diabetes for 5 years. He is a freshman at George Fox University in Oregon and is studying Civil Engineering. He has attended Friends for life the past 4 years. He is excited to be part of the elementary staff this year.


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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!

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A FFL attendee since 2003, Hunter Cope has grown up through the CWD elementary, tween, and teen groups with her service dog, Diva, by her side. Hunter, who was diagnosed with type 1 twelve years ago, has volunteered at each Friends for Life conference along with her family. She is currently attending the University of Florida in the pre-nursing program, lives with her new dog Sadie, and looks forward to being part of the staff again this year.

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Adrianne Cornette is a third 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!

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Maryam Elarbi was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 10, and eight months later her family began attending Children with Diabetes conferences. More than eleven years later, she's only missed one Friends for Life conference and doesn't plan on missing any more. FFL conferences are one of the highlights of her year, and she is thrilled to be back this year! In her free time, Maryam enjoys hiking at Valley Forge Park, reading, discovering new music, and binge watching TV shows on Netflix. Maryam graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 2015 with a degree in International Studies and a minor in History.

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Emilee Fairchild is 18 years old and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2004. Her first FFL conference was in 2006, and this is her 6th! Since diagnosis, Emilee has traveled to Washington, DC as the Kentucky Delegate for JDRF Children's Congress; she is also a JDRF youth ambassador. Emilee has made so many special friends at FFL and she loves seeing them again each year. She is very excited to join 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 will attend attend the University of Pikeville this fall where she will be on the women's college soccer team and will major in pre-med.


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Lynet Fox is the mother of three girls, Marisa (22), Jessica (20), and Erica (18) and Granna to Carter (1). She attended her first CWD 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 teaches high school physics. 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 eight years.

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Marisa Fox, BSN, RN, age 22, recently graduated from East Texas Baptist University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She is the older sibling to two sisters, Jessica and Erica, both diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Marisa attended her first CWD conference in 2005 and has attended many since.

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Oceanne Freeman was diagnosed in July 2010 at the age of 16. Born and raised in San Diego, California, she is a student pursuing her degree in Arts & Humanities as well as an athlete playing tennis for her college. She enjoys working at an ADA camp in San Diego and serves as a teen aid and group counselor. Oceanne attended her first Friends for Life in 2014 and volunteered as staff at the first Anaheim Focus on Technology conference. She enjoys working with children and being connected with the type 1 community.

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Brian Grant, BSN, RN, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2002. He loves working with people who have diabetes, and is looking forward to his fifth Friends for Life conference. Brian hopes one day to become a CDE. He currently resides in King of Prussia, PA, and works for Dexcom.

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Jen Hanson, BKin, BEd, MEd, has been living with diabetes for 26 years. She spent many a summer at Camp Huronda, an Ontario based camp for children with diabetes, were her love for adventure was fostered. Jen has a background in kinesiology, is a certified elementary school teacher, and has completed her master of education degree, researching community development through experiential diabetes education. Jen is the Director of Operations at Connected in Motion, has been involved with Children with Diabetes FFL in the UK, Canada, and the US, since 2009, and is a faculty member with the International Diabetes Federation's Young Leader's program. Jen has traveled throughout North America, Central America, to Europe, the United Arab Emirates and is excited to continue her adventures in Peru and Australia in 2013.

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Timothy Hitchcock is currently studying Astrophysics at the University of Cincinnati. His older sister Marissa was diagnosed with type 1 in 1989. Tim is a founding father of a fraternity at the University of Cincinnati and is looking forward to using the leadership skills he has learned thus far to work with the elementary kids.

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Kara Hunsche has been living with type 1 diabetes since February 23, 2001. She attended her first CWD 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 CWD elementary kids.

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Lauren Lanning is mom of Monica, 21, dx 8/96 and Sarah, 19. Lauren became involved with CWD shortly after her daughter was diagnosed in 1996. She has been involved in the conferences since the very first gathering in Orlando in 2000, where she volunteered to make name badges. Lauren now coordinates the Elementary Programming for every CWD conference. She serves on the boards of the Diabetes Scholars Foundation and CWD Foundation. Back home in Denver she is an IT consultant.

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Monica Lanning is 21 years old and studies biology at the University of Chicago. She also works as a research assistant focusing on monogenic diabetes at the Kovler Diabetes Center. She loves to get crafty, bake, hike, and travel. Monica has had diabetes for 19 years and has been to every FFL conference (all 15!) as well as many regionals. She calls her CWD friends "family" and is excited for this year’s "family reunion!"


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Katelyn Littlefield was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 9 in 2005, and has been attending the Friends for Life conference every year since 2006. She is currently attending University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and is studying Psychology and Counseling, while also working towards becoming a dog trainer! CWD has given her so much love and support, and has made such an impact on her. She is very excited to be a part of the elementary staff this year!


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Rebekah Macon balances her roles of full-time Mom to three rather wonderful people, full-time RN Student, and volunteer in hospitals and health clinics. She is also a volunteer IEP/504 Plan Advocate in schools for parents of children with special needs. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Child Psychology. She was thrust into the world of type 1 diabetes when her eldest son was diagnosed at age 4, and has been volunteering/attending Friends for Life since 2008. Her family agrees that meeting so many amazing people at FFL is one of the best silver linings for having type 1 diabetes! This community of support truly enables families to Carpe Diem despite type 1's challenges!


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Ethan Mattingly was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 10 months old. He attended his first conference in 2000 when he was two years old and has been to all CWD Friends for Life conferences and many of the regionals. Ethan started in childcare and moved though elementary, tween and teens. Ethan will be attending the University of Kentucky in the fall in their engineering program. He is very excited to be elementary staff and be with his CWD family and friends.


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Jeremy Meredith, 21, has had type 1 diabetes for 15 years; he was diagnosed in May of 2000 when he was six years old. Jeremy has been attending CWD conferences since 2003; this will be his 12th FFL Orlando conference. He has received his AS in Criminal Justice Technology this past year and currently 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.

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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 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.

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Sarah Pawlowski is from Manitowoc, Wisconsin. She is finishing up her degree at Marquette University majoring in Elementary Education and Psychology. Sarah has three siblings, two with type 1, and has been coming to CWD and Friends for Life Conferences since 2003. Sarah is extremely excited to work with the Friends for Life elementary kids and be a part of the CWD Youth Program Staff this year.


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Jessica Plotts is 20 years old, and a student at the University of Tennessee studying Psychology. She was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 5, 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 ADAs Camp Sugarfalls every summer. She cannot wait to work with all of the elementary kids again!

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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.

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Michelle Rago is an attorney and mom of three children with diabetes. Her son Trent was diagnosed at age 4 in 2000. Her family adopted daughter Maya -- diagnosed at one month -- from foster care in 2006. Her daughter Michela was diagnosed in November 2013 at the age of 15. Michelle is active with the American Diabetes Association Legal Advocacy group. She was awarded the Ben Teel Memorial Prize for Public Service at Harvard (where she founded a homeless shelter); the Charles Evan Hughes Fellowship for Public Service at Columbia Law School (where she represented children in foster care and worked on desegregation); and the Jeff Hitchcock Distinguished Service Award (for her work with CWD families).

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Lauren Rainford is a student at the University of Mary Washington. Her younger brother, Ryan diagnosed at 18 months, is her hero, her support, her motivation and her best friend. This summer marks their 16th year at the Friends for Life conference. Lauren believes that the CWD and FFL community helped her family and hundreds of others come together to feel more confident in living with diabetes. She is thrilled to have another chance to give back to the group that has done so much to help her family feel normal again.

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Zachary Schmidt, 18, was diagnosed in April of 2002 at the age 5. With the exception of two conferences, he has attended every Friends for Life 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.

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Mary Claire Schnier is 19, and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2008 at the end of 6th grade. She attended her first Friends for Life as a teen in 2009 and has never looked back. She now has a multitude of friends all over the country and is excited to volunteer with all the kids again. Mary Claire attends Eastern Kentucky University as a Public Relations major and frequently applies what she has learned from her FFL family as a college student. She is so thankful and blessed for the opportunities that Children with Diabetes has given her.

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Caroline Smits was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2001 and attended her first Friends for Life Conference with her family in 2003. Caroline is currently busy working on a critical care floor as a nurse tech at a hospital in Columbia, SC, and has enjoyed every minute of it. Now that Caroline has worked her way through all the youth programs she is excited to continue reaching out to other families living with diabetes and giving back to the CWD community as part of the FFL elementary staff.

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Wendy Smits, BSN, RN, is older sister to Caroline, diagnosed in 2001. Wendy and her family attended their first FFL conference in 2003 and have been hooked ever since. Since graduating with a nursing degree from the University of South Carolina, Wendy enjoys using her knowledge of type 1 to help educate patients, families, and other nurses about diabetes. While she has yet to attain her ultimate goal of becoming a Disney princess, Wendy loves every day of her current job as a pediatric oncology nurse in Columbia, SC.


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Marija Vjestica is 21 years old and in her senior year at Radford University. She is a Psychology major with a minor in Sociology. After graduation, she hopes to become a college academic advisor. Marija's younger sister, Lana, was diagnosed with type 1 seven years ago. Marija and her family have been to six Friends for Life conferences. This is her first year volunteering, and she is very excited to work with the elementary kids!

Siblings Staff

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Sierra Abel is the older sister to Sailor Abel, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2001. Sierra attended her first CWD 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 FFL 2011. Sierra and her family have been involved with CWD for many years now and she is excited to finally work with the kids. Sierra and her family live in New York.

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Intissar Ben Halim, MSS, is mom to Maryam, Zakariyya, Abdalla, and Yaseen, and wife to Nabil. She and her family been involved with CWD conferences since 2004. She enjoys meeting other CWD parents and families and sharing stories and challenges, especially now that she has four teens. Intissar loves her work as a clinical social worker at a nonprofit agency in West Chester, Pennsylvania, as well as her work as an associate at Cultivating Wholeness, a private practice in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. She and her family reside in King-of-Prussia.

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Carolyn Billetdeaux has been attending FFL conferences since the age of 13. After growing up through the Teen and College Age programs, she now works as a leader with the Tween and Sibling programs. She presents diabetes as a family disease and focuses on sharing the sibling side of the experience. Carolyn majored in management and organizational behavior at New York University, and currently works as a Sustainability Consultant in the metro-DC area.

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Robert Bulgarelli, DO, currently serves as National Medical Director, Highmark Inc. He has previously served as the Director of Integrative Cardiovascular Medicine for Main Line Health System, an affiliate of Jefferson Health System in suburban Philadelphia. He is a Board Certified cardiologist and maintains an active practice as a member of the Lankenau Heart Group. Dr. Bulgarelli is Co-Founder of Whole Life Health, a Behavioral Health company whose mission is the transformation of Health Care Delivery. His main area of interest and expertise includes practice of Integrative Cardiovascular Medicine. He is a skilled practitioner and teacher of meditation and is a Board Certified Medical Acupuncturist. In 2002, Dr. Bulgarelli was the 1st Cardiologist in the world to complete the two-year long Associate Fellowship in Integrative Medicine with Dr. Andrew Weil at the University of Arizona. He has been featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer, 6ABC and CN8. He has been published and quoted in many local and national magazines, including Main Line Today, Men's Health and Shape. A graduate of Philadelphia College of Medicine in 1990, Dr. Bulgarelli completed his medical internship at Mercy Catholic Medical Center in Darby, PA and his medical residency and cardiology fellowship at Lankenau Medical Center. He has been a part of Main Line Health his entire clinical career that now spans over 20 years.

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Zakariyya Elarbi is attending the University of Pittsburgh. After his twin sister Maryam was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, he knew that diabetes would forever play an important role in his life. Zak enjoys spending his free time reading, going to the gym, and hanging out with his friends. Zak is excited that he can finally give back to the CWD community by volunteering at the conferences with his close friends and family.


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Grace Grande-Cassell is very excited to be staffing her fifth 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.

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Rachale Park is a full time student at Palm Beach State college and spends her free time reading and playing with her dachshund, Maggie. Rachale grew up with a mother who has had diabetes since the age of 11 and her 12-year old brother, who has been diagnosed with diabetes for eight years. By volunteering with CWD, Rachale hopes to help others who are growing up with siblings who have been diagnosed and are excited to learn more about the type 1 diabetes community.

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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 recently began working for Dexcom as a sales representative.

Kindergarten, Pre-K and Childcare

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Mary Babin Bulgarelli, 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 six 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 blood glucose management. Mary has devoted her career to the world of medicine. As a graduate of Eastern University and Presbyterian School of Nursing, Mary has been in intensive care nursing for over 25 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for 19. 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!

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Alexa Brenner was diagnosed with diabetes in 1997, and has been attending the CWD conferences since 2006 with her mom, Georgia. Aside from letting her appreciate her inner Disney princess well into her teens and realize her dream to be the world's first pediatric endocrinologist princess, the conferences have allowed her to make some of the best friends for life she could ever hope to have. She's excited to be staff and give back to CWD, which has given her so much.

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Alex Bush is excited to be staffing her fifth year of CWD conferences! A graduate from Chico State University, she received her Bachelor degree in Psychology and Child Development. Alex is excited to be working in childcare this year.

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Michelle Dao is 20 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. This will be her first Friends for Life conference and she is excited to be working in childcare!

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Maura Emery, RD, LDN, CDE, has happily been a FFL Childcare staff member since 2004. Maura has been a CDE for 17 years. She has been able to make her passion for helping people with diabetes a reality by working at Animas for over 14 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.

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Chris Joynes, RN, attended her first Friends for Life conference after her 6 year old daughter Molly was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in March 2005. Chris loves working with children and has been a pediatric emergency department nurse for 11 years. She is excited to be full time staff and to give back to an organization that “provided my family with support, hope, motivation, and smiles once Molly was diagnosed.” Chris is also mom to Andrew, Elizabeth, and Benjamin, who have grown up with CWD.

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Ashlee Lewis, age 19, is the big sister to Madyson, diagnosed in 2010. Every year since then, she and her family have attended FFL. She loves the support and happiness the conferences have given her sister and hopes to give some back in return. Currently, Ashlee is studying Occupational Therapy at her community college and works part-time as a dance teacher. She is super excited to be on staff this year and can't wait to see all her extended family.

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Kameron Madley, from Tampa Bay, Florida, has been part of the FFL teen community for the past few years. He is a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University, majoring in Communication. Kameron's life revolves around school and work, but in his free time he loves fishing, boating, going to the beach and just being outside. Kameron loves working with children, and is delighted to join the childcare team this summer!

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Diamond Marquess, age 21, born and living in Morgantown, WV, was diagnosed on July 5, 2003. She's been participating in Friends for Life conferences since she was 12. Diamond loves making new friends and helping people out. Diamond is very artsy and is still trying to figure out what she wants to do for a career. She loves doing almost everything; whether it's drawing and writing, riding horses and helping animals, bowling or archery. She can't wait to see her family of 3,000+. This year will be 12 years with type 1 diabetes, and Diamond says, "I'm still kicking its butt!"

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Hannah Mattingly, now 19, is the older sister to Ethan Mattingly, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1998. Hannah and her family have been to all 16 CWD Friends for Life Orlando conferences, and many of the regional conferences. Hannah started in childcare and has worked her way through all the programs, graduating from the teens at FFL 2013. She is currently a freshman at Spalding University in Louisville, majoring in nursing. Hannah is so excited to be able to work in childcare again this year with all the little ones.


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Midge McBryant is grandma to Jeremy (dx'd 5/2000), Chelsea and Bailey. She lives in St. Petersburg, FL and works in a law firm as a paralegal. Midge has been attending Friends for Life conferences since 2003. She enjoys working with children and is a huge Tampa Bay Rays fan!

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Hannah Opdenaker, age 19, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 3 in 1999 and has been coming to the conferences for as long as she can remember. Hannah is a college student, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Theatre. In her spare time, Hannah can be found on stage acting, or off stage teaching yoga and working on political campaigns. Hannah is excited to be on staff again this year. She loves giving back to the FFL family!

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Belinda Peach is mom to Hannah (15) and Brianna (19). Hannah was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in August 2004 at the age of 4, and they attended their first Friends for Life conference in 2005. During the lunch break on the first day of the conference, Hannah, then 5, asked "when am I getting my pump?" It was great timing! Hannah started pumping that fall, just a couple weeks after starting kindergarten. Belinda knew after that first conference, given all the friends they'd made and all that they'd learned, that their family would be at every FFL conference. Belinda and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee. Belinda is an Oracle database administrator for the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA).

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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 at age 3 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.


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Helen Rodio, fiancée to Kenny Rodenheiser, is a first grade teacher at Folsom Elementary School in New Jersey. She has been attending 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.


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Brandy Schmidt is Jeff's wife (Schmidty to the teens) and mother of two, Brandon, dx'd 1997, and Rhiannon, dx'd 2009. When Brandon was diagnosed, Brandy came home from the hospital and found CWD on the first search. She has been addicted to CWD since then. She has been an advocate for all military families dealing with diabetes. She helped implement a gluten free policy in San Diego county public schools when Brandon was diagnosed with celiac in 2005. She has been dubbed the "Gluten Free Police" at conferences. Brandy now lives in North Carolina with her husband, two kids, four dogs and a bearded dragon!

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Kalyn Schmidt is 19 years old. She was diagnosed with diabetes at age 15 and has been coming to FFL conferences ever since. Kalyn will be entering her sophomore 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!

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Cyndy Schroeder RD, CDE, CDN, is back for her second year of Childcare at FFL. Cyndy has been a CDE for almost 25 years, just after her first daughter, Gretchen, was diagnosed with type 1 at the age of 13 months. Cyndy's second daughter Anna was diagnosed 14 years later. Cyndy works at Animas as a Clinical District Manager helping patients/educators understand the value of education and training. She is looking forward to a fabulously educational week. (Note: her daughter Anna will be attending for the first time, so say "Hi" to the 25 year old newbie!)

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Shelby Smith was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 6 in 2003. This will be her 12th FFL conference. She is currently a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University studying Communications. FFL is her favorite part of the year! She has made the best types of friendships from these conferences. In her spare time, her favorite activities include playing guitar, basketball, Skyping her CWD friends, and traveling. She absolutely loves children and is looking forward to bringing her positive attitude and sense of humor to the Youth Program staff.


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Rebekah Sutherland was diagnosed with T1 immediately after her 3rd birthday in 1998, attended her first CWD conference in 2010 and has attended ever since. Bex studies Social Science at Aberdeen College with a view to becoming a Diabetes Psychologist and Educator. She is a JDRF T1 Youth Ambassador, and since she was 13 she 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. In her spare time she is a swimming teacher, loves reading books, swimming, spending time with her dogs, babysitting and keeping up with her friends. Rebekah is excited to be volunteering this year at Friends for Life Orlando.

  Friends for Life 2015 Conference and Expo  
  Introduction - Registration - Sponsors - Exhibitors - Convention Center Map (PDF)  
  Faculty - Youth Faculty - Grandparents Faculty - CWD Staff - Sports Central Staff - Nightscout Faculty - Special Guests  
  Schedule: Parents and Adults - Youth - Nightscout Workshop  
  Childcare Form (PDF) - FAQs - Disney's MyMagic+ Checklist (Important)  
  Reports from 2014 - 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009 - 2008 - 2007 - 2006 - 2005 - 2004 - 2003 - 2002 - 2001  



                 
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Last Updated: Tuesday May 26, 2015 13:38:39
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