Elementary Team

Our Elementary Team oversees programming for our Fiffles aged 6 to 8

Sunshine Abel, RN, is the proud mother of Sierra and Sailor. She attended her first Friends for Life Conference with her family in 2002, after her daughter Sailor was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was two years old. After attending that conference, Sunshine immediately knew she had found a new family and a new home. It was where kids with type 1 can look around and see other kids just like themselves checking their blood sugars and giving insulin. She then made it her mission to get her whole family involved anyway she could, to give back. Sunshine started volunteering in 2005 and has been working as a nurse and lead HCP in the Friends for Life youth programming since 2006. “To FFL First Timer families: At diagnosis, my husband and I thought what in the world do we do now? How will this disease ever be part of our everyday lives? It turned our lives upside down. Finding CWD and attending that first FFL, we realized this is where our T1D journey begins. It is where we gain knowledge that is golden and given irreplaceable tools to help better manage our lives now that we are living it with type 1. It is where we learn how to better educate those around us in our everyday lives. It’s therapy for ourselves as a parent trying to navigate through the emotions. But most of all, FFL is where we turn to for support when we need it and to give it, to the parent who just can’t get their child’s blood sugar up at 3 am. Having a child with type 1 diabetes makes me feel like I can conquer anything.”

Hannah Klippel was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of eight and attended her first Friends for Life Conference just four months later. This will be her 16th year participating in Friends for Life conferences, and she is excited for another amazing year with the Elementary team! She is forever grateful for the resources CWD has provided her and her family. Hannah considers her friends made through CWD her family, and she truly can't imagine her life without them!

Kayla Van Eperen has three siblings - two with type 1 - and is mom to David. She has been attending CWD conferences and Friends for Life Orlando since 2003. Kayla graduated in 2017 from Marquette University with a degree in Elementary Education and Communication Studies. She is a 5th-7th grade Math Teacher in Madison, WI. She is very excited to be one of the Elementary Team leaders this year because it is a place where everyone just “gets it.” It truly is a great opportunity to work with the elementary-aged children to continue the culture of not being alone at Friends for Life.

Ashley Dasika is excited to be working in the youth program this year after coming to FFL conferences since the age of four when her younger sister was diagnosed at 11 months old. She didn’t wear an orange bracelet for long, though, because a year later, Ashley was diagnosed too at the age five. FFL is something her family looks forward to every summer. Ashley attends Tufts University in Boston, where she founded a Diabetes Link Chapter in addition to recently studying abroad in Madrid, Spain, where she interned at Madrid’s Diabetes Association. Ashley loves working with kids and is also a camp counselor at diabetes summer camp. Ashley is really excited to be a part of elementary team again this year!

Kira Davila Dobson, FNP-BC, CDCES, CPT, BC-ADM 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 volunteering in the youth program at this year’s conference and reconnecting with her Friends for Life.

Crystal Diaz

Crystal Diaz was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2019 at age 18 and attended her first Friends for Life Conference in 2021 with the Steward Perry Scholarship for Young Adults. She is from Orange County, California, and graduated from the University of California, Davis with her Bachelor of Science in Global Disease Biology. Crystal will be starting physician assistant school in the fall of 2024. She is so excited to be volunteering again at Friends for Life Orlando.

Abigayle Feldt is a 20 year old college student who wishes to become a diabetes educator after graduation. She has been living with type 1 diabetes for 10 years. Abbey has made many efforts to raise awareness for T1D, she used to be a JDRF youth ambassador at the age of 13. She also has her own JDRF one walk team, Sugar Rush, where she and her team has raised money for research and a cure. She also has an instagram account where she raises awareness for T1D and spreads positivity about living with diabetes. She has always loved to show off her fun stickers and patches for her devices. Abbey is excited to be a volunteer on the elementary team at this years FFL Orlando. She has been attending FFL for six years and can't wait to help out!

Sophia Helme was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 12 years old. This will be her 12th Friends for Life Conference! After going through Tween and Teen program and attending sessions for six years, she decided it was finally time to become part of the volunteer team. Sophia is currently a Pre-K teacher and absolutely adores all of the children with whom she works. In addition to teaching, in August she will be starting nursing school. Sophia is absolutely thrilled to get involved with the children of CWD and can't wait to see the positive impact she and her Diabetic Alert Dog, Duffy, can make in their lives.

Kerri Ann Jones is pursuing nursing with a minor in psychology at the University of Northern Colorado. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of seven in 2012. Kerri Ann and her family attended their first Friends for Life conference in 2013, where she and her family made lifelong friends. In the future, Kerri Ann wants to be a psychiatric pediatric, labor and delivery, or international travel nurse, and become a Certified Diabetes Educator. She can't thank CWD enough for giving her this opportunity to work with the kiddos. FFL helped Kerri Ann realize that there are people just like her of all ages and can't wait to help the younger kids make memories that they will remember forever!

Dan Knox is a classified staff member at a community college living in Tacoma, WA with his fiancé, Alexa. In his spare time, Dan enjoys listening to music, watching movies, and playing Madden. Dan was introduced to Friends for Life through his fiancé, Alexa, who was diagnosed with type 1 in 1997, and has been attending abd volunteering at the conference most of her life.

Belle Rison was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2007 at the age of two. She went to her first Friends For Life conference in 2017 and has enjoyed returning each year since. She is currently studying business at Florida Gulf Coast University. She is so blessed for having the friends she has made through FFL -- she considers them family and doesn't know what she would do without them. Belle is forever grateful for the impact the Friends For Life staff and volunteers have had on her life and she is so excited to have the opportunity to be a part of the Elementary Team this year.

Kayla Sachs is from Libertyville, Illinois. She graduated last year from Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, where she received her Bachelor's in Elementary Education. She is currently a 4th-grade elementary teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. Her younger brother Will was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 13 months old. Kayla has participated in Friends for Life Orlando for six years and has created so many memories with her new friends. She is very excited to come back to the Elementary Team this year!

Brandy Schmidt discovered Children With Diabetes when her son was diagnosed just 11 days after his first birthday. Brandy is married to Jeffrey and they have two children. Brandon was diagnosed in 1997 and Rhiannon was diagnosed 2009. The family attended their first conference in 2004. Brandy has worked in many different roles at the conferences throughout the years and enjoys helping other families navigate life with diabetes.

Matthew Van Eperen has two loved ones with type 1 diabetes (Melisssa Geren and Matthew Pawlowski) and has attended several Friends for Life conferences. Matt graduated from Marquette University in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in Political Science and minors in International Affairs and German Studies. He then obtained his Juris Doctorate at Marquette in May 2020. Matt currently works as a contracts specialist at UW-Madison. He is excited to again be with the Elementary Team. Matt is the husband to Kayla Van Eperen and father to David.

Lana Vjestica, born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, was diagnosed with diabetes when she was four years old. She has been attending Friends for Life conferences since 2008, including Marco Island, Philadelphia, and Falls Church! Lana is studying Communications and Health Sciences at the University of Richmond where she is a sophomore. In her free time, she loves shopping and exploring new places. This marks Lana’s second year volunteering at Friends for Life.

Jack Zimmerman was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 12 and attended his first Friends for Life Conference in 2023 in Orlando. As soon as the conference wrapped up he knew he would love to come back for the opportunity to volunteer, and he's so excited to be apart of the elementary team! Jack is currently attending Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Anthropology. Jack hopes to become an endocrinologist specializing in paediatric diabetes, as his own diabetes care team inspired and supported him through his journey. Jack is super excited to help out this year and make friends for life!


Indicates Elementary Team member with diabetes