Penpals United was founded by Jack Terschluse in 2011. Diagnosed with type one diabetes at age 11, Jack soon met an endocrinologist, Dr. Santosh Gupta and came under her care. A few years later, Dr. Gupta retired and decided to start Manav Seva Foundation, a 501c3 organization that supports diabetes programs for the poor in India’s rural clinics.
Dr. Gupta told Jack that the children with type one diabetes she worked with did not have any support networks, like those Jack was familiar with in the United States. So Jack started writing letters to these children, and soon started chatting with them via Skype (which the children accessed using their clinic’s computer).
Penpals United grew to serve more than 250 children in five different clinics across India, with a team of over 5 mentors. These mentors, based in the United States and other countries, are teens and young adults with type one diabetes who serve as role models to the children. They would meet with these children once a month via video-conferencing (again, with the children using their clinic’s computer). Children who participated experienced lower hemoglobin A1c levels, a greater sense of self-esteem, and better use of diabetes self-management tools.
The organization became a 501c3 nonprofit entity in 2013 and in 2016 received the Bakken Invitation grant from the Medtronic Foundation. Penpals United realized that it was not sustainable to develop monthly video support groups country-by-country. We realized, through our original video support groups, that many people had a smartphone that could connect them to new platforms.
Thus, Penpals United looked to the future. The organization has used the Bakken grant to transition from the video support groups to a new comprehensive mission: culturally relevant, diabetes self-management education (DSME) tools to empower people with type one diabetes in developing areas worldwide. DSME provides “knowledge and builds skills and abilities needed for effective self-care through informed decision making, problem solving, and collaboration with the health care team.” It is proven to increase quality of life.
These tools include mentorship, trainings, support groups, social networking, and more. We work with endocrinologists and diabetes educators in developing areas to begin and/or optimize their educational programs by using our technology and content.
These tools are culturally-relevant and evidence-based. What works in the United States may not, and likely does not, work in a developing area. We offer internet-based tools to areas that have internet access, and we offer offline tools to areas that don’t have internet access.
To scale and reach the most people possible, we have a built growing online platform that offers:
- a Learn feature, which contains content from Dr. Gupta’s recent book about type one diabetes care in India, and other practical, day-to-day tips written by people with type one diabetes in developing areas for people with type one diabetes in developing areas.
- a Connect feature, an online social networking platform that matches people with type one diabetes to other people with type one diabetes who are the same age, share common interests, and in the same region.
This new technology solves a critical gap experienced by people with type one diabetes in developing areas:
- the difficulty in connecting with others like them,
- in overcoming a stigma associated with diabetes,
- and in finding a source of practical knowledge that is hard to find in inadequate healthcare systems.
Looking to the future, Penpals United will continue to invest in ways for people with type one diabetes in developing areas to learn diabetes self-management and to connect with others like them.
Hannah Anolik, Executive Director (Bio)
Jennifer Jones, Associate Executive Director (Bio)
Clarissa Solari, Associate Executive Director (Bio)
Director of Innovative Programs TBA
Tori Martel, Development Intern (Bio)
Our Board of Directors
Jack Terschluse, Chairman & Founder (Bio)
Jake Bernstein (Bio)
Mridula Bhargava, MPH (Bio)
Dr. David Cavan, MD (Bio)
Dr. Santosh Gupta, MD (Bio)
Angela Middlehurst, CDE (Bio)
Jenna Vickers, CPA (Bio)
Our Advisory Board
Dr. Tim Bono, Phd (Bio)
Dr. Graham Ogle, MD (Bio)
Cage Sawyers (Bio)
Dr. Stephen Stone, MD (Bio)