Our Youth Staff oversee the programming for our four youth groups: Kiddie Kove (0-5), Elementary (6-8), Tween (9-12), and Teen (13-17), as well as supporting our Siblings Program for our youth who have brothers or sisters (or parents) with T1D.
Teen Program Staff
Hannah Cope, BSN, RN, age 28, received her nursing degree from Quinnipiac University and works at Advent Health Daytona Beach 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 because of the positive impact it has had on her life. Hannah grew up on the east coast of Florida and loves traveling, photography, and helping others. CWD means the absolute world to her and in 2014 she met Garrett Cope who is now her husband. This is her fifth year volunteering with the teens and she is very excited to be back!
Brian Grant, BSN, RN, CDCES, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2003. He loves working with people who have diabetes, and is looking forward to serving as Teen Leader at the Friends for Life Orlando conference. He currently resides in Mechanicsburg, PA and works for Dexcom.
Rayhan Lal, MD, MPH, PhD, is pediatric and adult endocrine faculty at Stanford. Rayhan grew up in the California bay area and always wanted to be an engineer. He has had type 1 diabetes for over 30 years. He studied electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. His two younger sisters were enrolled in DPT-1, were found to be antibody positive, and developed type 1 diabetes. In an effort to help all his brothers and sisters with diabetes, Rayhan decided to switch career paths and pursue clinical medicine at the University of California, Davis. Rayhan could not decide whether to take care of children or adults with diabetes and so did both. He completed a four year residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Southern California, working with the underserved at Los Angeles County Hospital. Rayhan then completed an adult and pediatric endocrine fellowship at Stanford. As an engineer and physician-scientist with diabetes, his primary research interest is the design, development, and testing of new diabetes technology and therapies with his mentor, Dr. Bruce Buckingham. Rayhan collaborates with many members of the Stanford Diabetes Research Center, industry and the open source diabetes community in an effort to bypass the biological, technological and human factor limitations of existing devices.
Ernie Prado serves as the Super Guppy Project Engineer in the Aircraft Operations Division at NASA's Johnson Space Center. In this role, he is responsible for maintaining airworthiness of the Guppy, integrating payloads, upgrading systems, assisting Maintenance, supporting sustaining engineering and ensuring mission success. In 2019, the Super Guppy airlifted the Artemis spacecraft between NASA facilities supporting America’s mission to Mars. 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 to prepare for their missions. 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. In his free time, Ernie enjoys snowboarding, SCUBA diving, crossFit, building Legos, and tinkering.
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.
Russ Johnston has three 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 to be on staff again and could not be more ready to help make the Friends for Life conference a great experience for everyone. For him, the best part of Friends for Life is helping teens connect to other teens across the country with whom they can relate.
Sarah Johnston has three siblings, two with type 1, and all four siblings are staff at Friends For Life! Sarah graduated from Marquette University with a degree in Elementary Education as well as Psychology and now teaches middle school STEM in Milwaukee, WI. Spending a week at Friends for Life each summer is a huge part of her family’s life. Since the age of 10, Sarah spends a week where everyone understands diabetes and all that comes with type 1. Friends for Life is filled with amazing people who bring out the best in one another. Sarah is so excited to work with the Friends for Life tweens and continue to be a part of the staff this year!
Elementary 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.”
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 part of the CWD Youth Program staff 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.
Matthew Van Eperen has two loved ones with Type 1 (Melisssa Geren and Matthew Pawlowski) and has attended several FFL 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.
Kiddie Kove Program Staff
Parker Grand is excited to be on the Friends for Life staff 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.
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.
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.”
Indicates youth staff member with diabetes