- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 4, 2006

LEBANON, N.H. (AP) — Besides juggling school, sports and everything else that goes along with being a teenager, 16-year-old Corinne Cline has to deal with managing her diabetes.

But Corinne is benefiting from a program that links teenagers with Dartmouth College students who also have chronic illnesses. The goal of Steps Toward Adulthood Responsibility (STAR) is to help teens develop confidence and the skills they will need to become independent adults.

“It’s so nice to see people just like me who know how it feels,” she said. “If I didn’t have STAR, I wouldn’t have been able to accept it as well. I needed that push.”

STAR is based on the idea that the best role model is someone who is one step ahead. Founders envisioned one-on-one mentoring, but quickly realized that teens respond best to group activities, said Mark Detzer, the program’s director.

“It turns out a young person with diabetes doesn’t necessarily want a mentor with diabetes,” Mr. Detzer said.

The program’s cornerstone is a dinner and discussion session every six weeks, but there also are retreats, social outings, writing workshops and research projects.

Corinne, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes three years ago, didn’t think her peers would understand her illness when she went away to boarding school two years ago.

Type 1 diabetes requires daily insulin injections, but she often skipped her blood tests or waited to test in private.

“I wasn’t accustomed to taking care of myself, so things went downhill,” Corinne said.

Transferring to another private school and moving back home to Andover helped her manage her disease better, she said, as has the STAR program.

At the dinners, parents meet with a social worker while the teens split up into small groups with the college students. Discussion topics range from how much to tell their friends about their illnesses to improving communication with doctors, teachers and parents.

“Part of the richness of this model is that some of the Dartmouth students are still struggling with these issues,” Mr. Detzer said.

Jessica Glago, 20, arrived at Dartmouth in 2004, just six months after undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

“I know when I was in treatment at home, I would’ve loved to have been in a program like STAR,” said Miss Glago, of Cleveland. “I feel like now I get a chance to show them that transitions aren’t easy, but they can be managed.”

The program was founded 10 years ago by psychologist Phyllis Wilson, who donated money in memory of a daughter who had a successful career despite having polio as a child.

Miami University psychology professor Alexandra Quittner, who has studied children with chronic illnesses for 20 years, said she knows of no other program like STAR, even though the population that could benefit from it is growing. Not only are diseases such as diabetes and asthma on the rise, but medical advances mean more children who might have died from some illnesses in the past are living into their teen years and beyond.

“There are more and more kids living on a day-to-day basis with chronic illnesses and very few resources to meet their needs,” she said.

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