Youth Program Staff
Teen Program Staff
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.”
Aaron Cordell is a social studies teacher living in Philadelphia, PA with his girlfriend, Hannah, and their dog, Ruby. He teaches at an alternative high school that services disadvantaged and at-risk youth from North Philadelphia. In his spare time, Aaron enjoys hiking, biking, traveling, and being outdoors. Aaron was introduced to Friends for Life through his girlfriend, Hannah, who was diagnosed with type 1 at age three, and has been attending/volunteering at the conference most of her life. He is very excited to be working with the Teen Team again this year!
Hannah Opdenaker was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in February of 1999 and has been attending the Children With Diabetes Conferences since 2001. She is the Associate Director for a non-profit theater in Philadelphia, where she acts as a grant writer, program director, and occasional performer. Hannah is excited to serve as a Teen Leader at the Friends for Life conferences.
Tween Program Staff
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. Aside from working with Tweens at Friends for Life Conferences each year, Melissa is currently a board member for Children with Diabetes.
Zach Geren is husband to Melissa Geren, diagnosed at age four. Zach attended his first conference in 2015 and has enjoyed every FFL since. Each conference, Zach looks forward to spending time with the friends he's made, as well as making new ones. Zach graduated from Marquette University Law School and works as an attorney in Chicago. Zach loves to watch and play almost every sport, but especially enjoys playing basketball, tennis, football, and frisbee.
Tina Ghosn has three children with diabetes. Her daughter is thriving in her second year away at college. Her oldest son is in the last stretch of his senior year and will begin his college experience fall of 2020. Her youngest child, the one whose diagnosis at age two introduced the Ghosn family to life with diabetes, will soon be the only child at home certainly loving being on the receiving end of ALL her attention. Friends For Life 2020 will be her ninth Orlando conference since her youngest son was diagnosed in 2007. Tina says, “Friends For Life is more than learning about new technology or the most recent cure research, it’s more than meeting people with diabetes who summit mountains, race cars, win extreme challenge courses, become pro-athletes, or write and perform music. Friends For Life is about the powerful feeling in your chest as you hear the words ‘Us Too,’ while you chat with strangers who are just like you and meet kids who are just like yours; it's in those moments the universe feels smaller and more manageable. Plus all the food is carb counted for you!”
Teresa Littlefield, MSN, RN, RNC-MNN, CLC, PMH-C, is mom to Katelyn, diagnosed at age nine, and Jessica. She has been attending conferences since 2006. Teresa currently works with at-risk first-time moms, including those with type 1, and their babies, and is also a clinical nursing instructor at her local university. Teresa volunteers with patients with diabetes in her local community and 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! If asked why someone should come to FFL, she says, “It’s because these are your people and the only ones who truly understand you, whether you are a person with diabetes or their caregiver.”
Elementary Program Staff
Alexa Brenner was diagnosed with diabetes in 1997, and has been attending Friends for Life Orlando conferences since 2006. FFL has empowered her to take charge with her own diabetes and advocate for both herself and others, and has allowed her to meet some of her best friends. Alexa is currently working in healthcare and being politically active through both work and personal life. She's excited to be on staff and give back to CWD, which has given her so much.
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.
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 15th 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!
Kiddie Kove Program Staff
Mary Babin, RN, BSN, CDCES, 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 25 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!
Chris Freund, 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 15+ years and loves working with kids. She is also mom to Andrew, Elizabeth and Benjamin who have grown up with CWD.
Parker Grand is excited to be volunteering at Friends for Life as Children with Diabetes 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.”
Elizabeth Joynes is 18 years old and is the younger sister of Molly who was diagnosed with type 1 in 2005. She has been coming to FFL ever since then and has been to many regional conferences as well. Elizabeth is currently enrolled in an early childhood education program and can't wait to start her senior year in August. After growing up attending FFL, she is super excited to be able to work in Kiddie Kove this year!
Indicates staff member with diabetes