In this Global Postcard, we hear from Hannah based in New Jersey who has recently taken over as the Executive Director of Penpals United. Here, she talks about what Penpals United is, how they started and some of their future plans. We’re excited to keep supporting them and following their journey as they keep growing!
My name is Hannah Anolik and I am the new Executive Director of Penpals United (PPU). I am 21 years old and I have had type 1 diabetes since I was 6 years old. I’m entering my final year at The College of New Jersey, where I am majoring in public health and minoring in political science and psychology. I hope to work in global health or health policy one day.
Last semester, I interned abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, where I worked at Diabetes South Africa to plan the annual weekend camp for children with diabetes and visited support groups for people with diabetes throughout Cape Town. I have been involved with PPU since 2011 and have held many roles in the organization since then. Penpals United aims to create an inspiring community of people around the world with T1D. Founded in 2013 by Jack Terschluse after his endocrinologist, Dr. Santosh Gupta, started the Manav Seva Foundation, a 501c3 organization that supports diabetes programs for the poor in India’s rural clinics, PPU continues to grow.
At first, we led support groups via web-based video chatting software for participants at these rural clinics in India with our mentors, who were teens and role models with T1D in America and other countries (where my initial role in Penpals began!). Over the years, we have reached over 250 children in India and helped provide psychosocial support that many communities were lacking. Children reported lower hemoglobin A1C levels, increased self-esteem, and better diabetes self-management. Not only were these support groups inspiring and impactful, but they paved the way for PPU’s future mission.
After becoming a nonprofit entity in 2013 and receiving the Medtronic Bakken Invitation in 2016, Penpals United realized that it was time to devote our energy into creating sustainable, continuously expanding, self-sufficient programs. Early in 2019, we launched our new website, http://www.penpalsunited.org, which provides culturally relevant education for people with T1D based on Dr. Santosh Gupta’s book, “Living the Sweet Life,” and an online social media platform for people with T1D in developing areas to connect with each other.
Still, we are looking toward the future to carry out our mission of providing culturally relevant T1D education to people in developing communities worldwide and empowering them in peer-to-peer support groups. I am honored to be in this new position at Penpals United, and am eager to see what our team can accomplish in the years to come.
Penpals United has truly changed my life in more ways than I can count. Despite my role as mentor, the people and children that I have interacted with throughout the years have been an inspiration to me. We know that there is a need for access to culturally relevant information and that the T1D community is made of incredible people who we believe can connect and empower each other. Penpals United is working to foster a world where many people with T1D can thrive when they come together.