Tween 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!”

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 volunteers 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 be part of the Friends for Life Tween Team this year!

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!

Sarah Melcher was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was nine years old. She volunteered at her first FFL conference in 2009 and led the Tween Program at FFL Canada in 2018. She will be volunteering in Orlando again this year as she enjoys the educational and fun environment that is provided for the youth at CWD conferences. Sarah is a secondary school teacher, specializing in physical education. She has attended and worked at a diabetes summer camp in Ontario where she met many of her friends with diabetes.

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!

Matthew Pawlowski was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2002. He attends the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, majoring in Business Administration with emphases in Supply Chain Management and Entrepreneurship. Matthew has been coming to Friends for Life since 2003 and is proud that he has gone through the entire FFL education program. He has three sisters: Melissa (dx’d 2/95), Sarah, and Kayla, who are all on FFL staff.

Jessica Plotts is 24 years old, a graduate of the University of Tennessee and was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of five. She has been coming to Friends for Life conferences since 2000 and this will be her sixth year on staff. CWD is an amazing community of people and everyone is a great resource to have throughout the year. The friends made at CWD conferences really are her friends for life.

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, got married last summer, and moved from Texas to Des Moines, IA. She says that CWD conferences are the best part of her year and she is very grateful for all the friends she has made at Friends for Life. Erica is extremely excited to work with the tweens and have the opportunity to be on staff once again.

CWD 2017 Smiley For Faculty 3

Indicates tween staff member with diabetes