Tween Staff

Our Tween Staff oversee programming for our Fiffles aged 9 to 12.

Melissa Geren was diagnosed with diabetes in 1995. She went to her first Friends for Life Orlando Conference in 2003 and has been attending Friends for Life conferences ever since. Melissa is mom to Maddax (born December 2021), wife to Zach and has three siblings, Sarah, Kayla, and Matthew (diagnosed at age two). Melissa works in marketing in Chicago and loves the Windy City. In addition to working with Tweens at Friends for Life Conferences each year, Melissa is currently a board member for Children with Diabetes.

Sarah Johnston is mom (to Reese), wife (to Russ), sister (to Melissa, Kayla, and Matthew) and daughter (to Dave and Chris Pawlowski). Two of Sarah's siblings have had type 1 diabetes for more than 20 years. With a bachelor's degree in Education and Psychology, Sarah is a STEM teacher in a project based classroom in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Since the age of 10, Sarah spends a week where everyone understands all that comes with type 1 diabetes. Now, Sarah brings her own daughter and husband to spend time with others just like Aunt Melissa and Uncle Matthew. This is a great time to reconnect as a family and catch up with friends from all over the world. Sarah is excited to be a Tween Leader, where hands-on activities lead to learning and friends for life.

Erica Smith

Erica Smith was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in January 2004. Erica attended her first Friends for Life conference in 2004 with her family and has only missed one conference since, which she thoroughly regrets. She graduated from Texas A&M University with a Health Education degree. Erica currently resides in Round Rock, TX with her husband and son Weston (born April 2022). She is a Second Grade teacher in the Austin area. Erica says that Friends for Life conferences are the best part of her year and she is very grateful for all the friends she has made at conferences. She is extremely excited to be a leader on the Tween Team!

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 conferences since that time. It was through the FFL conferences that she first met her husband, Martyn. They welcomed a son, Owynn, in May 2021. Chelsea now lives in Glasgow and works as a data analyst for Vodafone UK. She is also an aerialist and spends all of her free time hanging from the rafters on a trapeze in various venues around the UK!

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. He would like to become a Diabetes Specialist Nurse (DSN). Martyn met his wife Chelsea at the Friends for Life Conference in Orlando and he is now Dad to son Owynn (born May 2021). He has participated in the Friends for Life conferences in the United States, Scotland, and England for many years, working within the Elementary, Tween and Teen age groups where he loves helping out and being with his friends.

Kira Dobson, FNP-BC, CDCES, CPT, BC-ADM, is a first time volunteer this year. She is mother to Kairi (green bracelet tween) and Jacob (orange bracelet teen). While she was already a nurse practitioner in Internal Medicine, once her daughter, Kairi, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2018, she pivoted her career to focus primarily on diabetes management and education. She has spearheaded projects in her community to advance the use of technology in management for type 1 and type 2 in primary care. During their first FFL, she realized the importance of having a support network within the type 1 community for all members of the family. "Even with fifteen years of healthcare experience, nothing prepared me or our family for that impact and emotional toll that Kairi’s type 1 and celiac diagnoses would play on our lives. During our first FFL, I think we were all able to finally breathe a sigh of relief knowing we weren’t alone. The first thought that comes to mind when I think of Friends for Life is that it's life changing." She looks forward to working with your tweens at this year’s conference and reconnecting with her Friends for Life.

John Gallagher was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2011. He has attended Friends for Life Orlando since 2013 and is excited to be part of the Tween Team again this year. He currently lives in Lewisburg, WV, and graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry. John is a current second year osteopathic medical student at West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. He has previously worked as an EMT for the last five years and in the Brusko Lab at the University of Florida Diabetes Institute. “CWD means to me a place where I can relax and simultaneously forget about diabetes for a while but also learn so many new things about living with type 1 diabetes."

Annabelle Gonnella is a second year nursing student at the University of Cincinnati and is working on getting her BSN and RN. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2004 but did not attend her first Friends For Life Conference until July 2019 in Orlando. She loves working with kids and especially loves working with type one families. Annabelle can't wait to meet all her new friends in the tween program this year!

Dennis Holterman, 25, has lived with type 1 diabetes for 15 years. Dennis has been coming to Friends For Life since 2013. Currently, he attends Southeast Missouri State University achieving his BA in Performing Arts. After graduation, Dennis plans to move to Los Angeles and become a successful actor, and then use his influence to spread awareness about diabetes. Dennis says, “Friends for Life is a home for people with diabetes to feel accepted and like they fit in. That’s why FFL means so much to me."

Brianne Jeske, BSN, RN, is a registered nurse, working in the CVICU in Orlando, Florida. In her spare time she likes to craft, read, and spend time at Disney World. Her youngest brother was diagnosed with type 1 when he was five and it changed her family's lives, in a positive way. What helped was attending the FFL conference. Brianne has 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 this is her fifth year on staff. Brianne can’t wait to help others learn about diabetes and create friends for life!

Angela Kaminski

Angela Kaminski is from Flagstaff, Arizona. Her youngest son was diagnosed four years ago with type 1 diabetes. Angela is the Director of a small K-12 school. She lives with her husband, youngest daughter, two youngest sons, and two very spoiled dogs. She has three grown children scattered across the United States. In her free time, Angela likes to hike, camp, play board games, badminton, and spend time around the fire with friends and family. Her first trip in person to Friends for Life Orlando was in 2021. It was life-changing for her and her family! They are very excited to return this year. Angela is extremely excited to volunteer this year and spend time with the tweens all week!

Lizzie Lackey was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 19 and attended her first CWD conference four months later. She came away filled with so much hope and a sense of belonging that she has only missed 1 conference in the past 11a years. Friends for Life is her absolute favorite week of the year! The other 51 weeks of the year, Lizzie is a Vision Therapist in Houston, TX. She loves working with kids of all ages and can't wait to be back at FFL in person!

Jesse Nagel, RN, CDCES, age 30, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 9 1/2 years old. He graduated from D’Youville College Nursing School and currently works at Cohen's Children's Medical Center as a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. Jesse states that he pursued a career in nursing due to the wonderful doctors, nurses and researchers he met at each FFL over the years. CWD is his home and he has been quoted saying “This is the happiest week of my life every year!” He has attended every FFL Orlando since 2003 as part of the elementary, tween, and teen groups, and is excited to work with the Tweens this year!

Serafina Raskin is excited to be back at FFL for her second year as a staff member. Serafina and her family have been attending FFL conferences since 2013 when her son Max was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 7 (he’s now 16!). In 2018, Serafina’s husband Ed was also diagnosed with T1D. FFL has been such a great place to learn, connect and share with other families touched with T1D. When not parenting her teen and tween boys and spending time with her husband, friends, family, and dog, she serves as General Counsel of Found, a telemedicine company focused on science-based weight management. Serafina also serves on the board of College Diabetes Network and works to advance the role of women and other underrepresented groups in the life sciences.

Shelby Smith, MBA, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age six in 2003. This will be her 17th Friends for Life Orlando conference. She currently does marketing, communications, web design, and social media management for Florida Gulf Coast University. FFL is her favorite part of the year, and she has made the best friendships from these conferences. In her spare time, Shelby's favorite activities include traveling, going to concerts, and playing with her golden retriever puppy, Scruffy. She looks forward to spending her favorite part of the year with the Tween Team!

Caroline Smits

Caroline Smits was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2001 and attended her first Friends for Life conference in 2003. She loves her busy life as a flight attendant and certified Infant Swimming Resource Instructor in Charlotte, NC. She enjoys exploring new and familiar places in her free time as well as visiting family. Caroline has a passion for service and is excited to help out as part of the Tweens Team!

Jim Stone

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, wife Julia, and Andrew have all been involved in diabetes advocacy since Andrew’s diagnosis, focusing on diabetes accommodations in school. Jim is a retired Army officer and Public Works manager. He and his wife live in Rolla, Missouri. He has been a Boy Scout leader for many years and enjoys working with the tweens.


Indicates tween staff member with diabetes

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