Jack took me on an amazing field trip. In the space of about 90-minutes, we visited four different clinics in India spread over 3,000 miles and reaching hundreds of people living with diabetes.
Jack Terschluse is the founder and President of Penpals United, an inspiring community of people with type one diabetes worldwide offering support and inspiration to children and teens using online support groups and traditional pen pal opportunities.
He got the idea when his former endocrinologist, Dr. Santosh Gupta, retired to start her own foundation to support children with type one diabetes in northern India (the Manav Seva Foundation).
“She told me about the lack of support networks for children in the developing world and connected me to a teenage girl named Surbhi who I started exchanging letters with. An idea popped into my head: what if an online support group existed for children with type one diabetes around the globe?” — Jack Terschluse, Penpals United
Thus, Penpals United was born. Thier vision is to build an inspiring community of people with type one diabetes worldwide by offering online support groups and pen pal opportunities for children and teens with T1d.
With mentors from the US, Canada, England, and Mexico now serving over 250 children monthly in India, Mexico, Rwanda, and Uganda, they are making a difference and continue to grow.
Jack says, “Our motto, Many miles, Many people with T1 diabetes, One connection, reflects the power we’ve discovered in sharing stories about living with T1d, ultimately empowering kids to be diabetes leaders in their villages who then can lift other kids up as well.”
My time with their online support groups was nothing short of incredible. After connecting with Jack and his team, we spent the evening virtually zooming around India visiting with four different diabetes groups at local hospitals and clinics.
At each group I spent a few minutes sharing my story and talking about living with diabetes, then I took questions from the attendees. I was impressed by similarities we all face and their drive to grow their ability to support their peers, not only in terms of diabetes education, but also in the psychosocial space that we all know is so important.
I was also very impressed with the rhythm and system that Jack has put together. As we wrapped up at each site, one of Jack’s team (in this case, Hannah in the upper right, or Alex in the lower left) would stay behind with the local group to answer any additional questions, spend a few minutes following up, then transition it to the local group facilitator.
In the meantime, Jack, Dr. Gupta, and I would zoom off to another site and start the discussion with a new group. About halfway through, one of either Hannah or Alex would rejoin the call, ready to handle the transition again. It was all very smooth and gave me the impression that each local group was very well taken care of.
We only see part of the team here, but Jack has an awesome group helping, including Jay Haapala, who you may have seen on Scott’s Diabetes before.
One of the most powerful memories I have from my time with Penpals United is something Dr. Gupta said to me after we finished.
“Most people there, even the doctors sometimes, don’t expect people with diabetes to live more than 20 years. So simply seeing me, and others like me, who are living well after so many years of diabetes sends an incredible message of hope and inspiration.” — Dr. Santosh Gupta
She continues, “Having a Penpals United online mentor who lives successfully with type one diabetes shows these children that they too can live long, happy lives.”
How Can You Help?
I asked Jack if he had to pick one call to action, what would it be?
Write a letter to a child with T1d and then tweet to @PenpalsUnited that you wrote a letter! Building the international T1d community through the internet and Twitter is vital. — Jack Terschluse, Penpals United