Conference Volunteers

Teen Team

Our Teen Team oversees programming for our Fiffles aged 13 to 17.

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. He currently resides in Mechanicsburg, PA, and works for Dexcom.

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 Team

Our Tween Team oversees programming for our Fiffles aged 9 to 12.

Erin Graffeo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in January 1991. She was diagnosed with celiac disease five years ago. Professionally, Erin holds six teaching certifications and enjoys teaching first grade in Long Island, New York. She resides in West Babylon, New York with her husband Anthony. Friends for Life is the highlight of her year. Erin looks forward to volunteering with the Tween Team this year.

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!

Elementary Team

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

Colleen O'Connell

Colleen O'Connell, RN, is wife to Bob, mom to Kaileigh (dx. 1/2007), and Meg, age 14. Colleen and her family have attended FFL conferences since 2008 learning as much as they could, making friends, and giving Kaileigh another family. She works as an RN in the NICU at Beth Israel Lahey Medical Center in Boston, MA. Colleen recalls, "At our first FFL conference, we met Sunshine Abel (also a nurse and mom to a child with type 1) in childcare. We were nervous to leave Kaileigh; she was young and newly diagnosed. But, I remember the confidence we had when we met Sunshine and the staff." Colleen has been volunteering at Friends for Life conferences since 2019 and hopes that she is able to make other families comfortable leaving their children so that they can attend seminars and gain knowledge and support in caring for their child and family. Colleen says, "I am so happy to give back to CWD after everything the conferences and people involved in CWD have given to us over the years!"

Gabriela Santaniello, age 22, is from Long Island, New York. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 11 years old. Gabriela first attended Friends for Life Orlando in 2022 and knew that she wanted to return and give back to this awesome community. She is a psychology undergrad student who hopes to further her education at a social work graduate school and then become a certified diabetes educator. Her seven-plus years of providing childcare has shown her that children are so resilient and strong, which is why she would love to become a pediatric diabetes educator. Gabriela is so excited to be working with kids who understand the high and lows of type 1 diabetes.

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.

Kiddie Kove Team

Our Kiddie Kove Team takes care of our youngest Fiffles -- kids age five and younger.

Lisa Anderson has two adult children, Morgan, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2011, and Ian, non T1D who has high functioning autism. She has been attending Friends For Life since 2018. Lisa is a retired recreation and childcare director for the city of Huntington Woods, Michigan where she also ran the city’s annual 4th of July parade for 30 years. She loves seeing all the new friendships made at FFL and how everyone helps each other by sharing supplies or sharing a shoulder to lean on. Lisa looks forward to volunteering this year to help others make lasting friendships at FFL just like she has.

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.

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!

Registration Team

Helen Finegold attended her first Friends for Life conference in 2018 and has been coming back as a volunteer ever since. She lives and works in Connecticut with her husband Will (dx 2004). Helen looks forward to FFL each year to learn about new technologies and reconnect with friends new and old. Outside of working with Children with Diabetes, Helen enjoys photography, travel, and spending time with her two cats.

Brenda Hitchcock is mom to Marissa (dx’d at 24 months), Kathryn, and Tim. She’s worked side-by-side with her husband Jeff on Children with Diabetes since it began in 1995. Brenda brings a mom’s perspective to diabetes care, assists in preparing links for The Weekly Diabetes email newsletter, and helps out in countless ways at Friends for Life conferences.

Julia Mattingly is proud mom of Hannah and Ethan, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in July of 1998 at 10 months old and started pumping when he was three years old. Julia has attended every Friends for Life conference and most of the regionals as well. Julia coordinates registration at each conference, and you can always find her when you need a smile and hug. Julia loves coordinating registration and being able to meet and talk to everyone who attends. Her favorite Friends for Life memory is from 2000 when she met all of her CWD email moms in Orlando for the first time. She also loves to see the smiles on her children’s faces when they re-connect with their CWD friends each summer. "Coming to Friends for Life has changed our lives. I have friends that 'get it' and what we as moms go through. But mostly, it has helped teach Ethan how to take care of himself, to live his best life on his own and taught us all how to give back to the CWD community."

Tech Team

Will Nowak attended his first Friends for Life event in 2018 and has been returning to volunteer with the IT Team ever since. He is interested in learning about new developments in diabetes technology and participating in clinical trials in that space. Will and his wife Helen live in New Jersey with their two cats. He works as a Site Reliability Engineer and outside of work enjoys rock climbing, travel, and searching for the best Fettuccine Alfredo. Will is looking forward to seeing everyone at the next conference!

Martin Yaravitz lives in Rochester, NY. He is father to Hannah, who was diagnosed in 2015 at the age of seven. As luck should have it, the family discovered Children with Diabetes that year and attended their first Friends for Life conference that summer. The experience at Friends for Life was almost as life changing as the diagnosis itself. Martin owns and operates an IT consulting company in the upstate NY area. He and his family are champions of Friends for Life and encourage any T1D family to check it out and get involved in some way.

Support Team

Carolyn Meredith is mom to Chelsea, Jeremy (dx’d May 2000), and Bailey and wife to Rich. Carolyn and her family attended their first Friends for Life conference in 2003 and have been involved with CWD ever since. Carolyn works with Rich managing the storage facility and works with the Support Team as central communications during the conference. For her day job, Carolyn is the Data Management Tech at an elementary school in St. Petersburg, Florida. She enjoys meeting and sharing with other CWD families. “Friends for Life is a place where everyone ‘gets it’ and you can share your own experiences to help others newer to T1D.”

Jeremy Meredith was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in May of 2000 when he was six years old. Jeremy has been attending Friends for Life Orlando conferences since 2003. He received his Associates of Science in Criminal Justice Technology in 2016, a general AA in 2018, BAS in Public Safety Administration in 2020, and is a certified SCUBA diver. His biggest reason to come to Friends for Life Orlando is that it is a “vacation” from diabetes that is all about diabetes.

Rich Meredith is dad to Jeremy (dx'd May 2000), Bailey, and Chelsea. He has been involved in CWD since the family attended their first conference in 2003. His day job is working in IT, but on the side he makes "big bowls," hand thrown pottery pieces which have been found at diabetes and community art related fund raising auctions. Rich coordinates the load in and load out of all conference materials, and organizes the Exhibit Hall volunteer staff for the FFL conference. Children With Diabetes has been a huge part of his family’s life, and they have all made lifelong friendships here.

Mary Mills is the proud mom of Ashlyn, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2015 at the age of 19. She attended her first FFL conference in 2016 and quickly found what she refers to as her “tribe.” Mary and her family have been attending FFL every year since and Ashlyn now works full-time for CWD. Professionally, Mary is retired from the State of Florida after 35 years working with high risk youth and families and is excited to use her background to volunteer with the FFL Support Team. In her spare time, Mary enjoys crafting and camping with her family.

Tim Mills has been involved in the T1D world since 2015, when his Daughter Ashlyn (who now works for Children with Diabetes) was diagnosed. He has attended Friends for Life Orlando since 2018, and has found his tribe. Tim lives in Perry, Florida, with his wife Mary. Tim enjoys camping and spending time with family. He graduated from East Carolina University in 1989, and has worked for the State of Florida since 1996.


Indicates volunteer with diabetes