Emmie Best was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 7 years old, and at first, she had trouble accepting her diagnosis or telling anyone about it.

“The first thing I thought someone would assume is, ‘Oh well, she’s fat. She’s overweight. She’s done this to herself,’” she said.

Meeting with other young people with diabetes and chronic diseases helped her accept the diagnosis and prepare her to mentor her sister, she said at a recent gathering of older members of the Peer Mentor Project.

“Yeah, I have to deal with this for the rest of my life, but so does she, so does he, and we all can help each other find ways to cope,” she said. Best and the members she met with have all graduated from high school, but they expect to help train a new group of peer mentors in June.

The Peer Mentor Project was formed about 10 years ago and brings together kids across the region with a variety of different diagnoses, including autism, anxiety and depression, epilepsy, traumatic brain injuries and diabetes. The group was organized by Liza Tregillus, who was working as a regional social worker for San Juan Basin Public Health at the time. She has continued to work with peer groups and finds that the gatherings help show teens that their health differences can be an asset.

Peer mentors Henry Tregillus, Joe Scott and Jack Meigs all have challenging health conditions and, as teenagers, learned to mentor others with similar challenges. Tregillus has epilepsy and didn’t want anyone to know about it in high school. “I found out later that…

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Mayra Rodriguez

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Mayra Rodriguez
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