Sofia Skok, MCAS ’18, and Carson Viscarello, LSOE ’19, have started a mentoring program called the Chronic Illness Allies (CIA) for students with celiac and inflammatory bowel diseases, both of which are currently on the rise. The program pairs underclassmen with upperclassmen who suffer from the same disease, so that the upperclassman can act as guides and inspiration for their mentees as they transition to college.
“They can kind of be like a friend … that can help explain to them how to manage [their disease] socially on BC’s campus,” Skok said. “I think it’s encouraging to see, if this person was able to go through college and have a normal experience, then I can too. Especially when you’re coming in as a freshman … college is scary enough as it is.”
According to Skok, it can sometimes be difficult to navigate Boston College’s dining halls with celiac or inflammatory bowel diseases because of the limited options available that don’t contain gluten or other ingredients students may have sensitivities to. Such diseases could also impact students socially, she explained, because many social aspects of BC often revolve around getting food or going out drinking with friends.
After being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in May, Skok reached out to Viscarello, who has the same condition, and the two talked about what it was like to manage the disease on BC’s campus. After receiving Viscarello’s help, Skok thought of how incoming freshmen with digestive diseases were going to arrive on BC’s campus without anyone they could ask questions to, which inspired her and Viscarello to start the mentoring program.
The program has no required events or meetings, rather the mentor-mentee pairs are encouraged to get coffee or go out to eat, where they can talk about what it’s like to manage their condition at BC. According to Skok, the mentors can be there for however much or little their mentee needs them.
Skok’s roommate freshman year, Kristen Leach, MCAS ’18, was the first mentor in the program to be paired with a mentee. She says that she is glad Skok has put the program together, as she wishes she had had someone around to help her in this manner during her freshman year.
“[My goal is] to make kids more comfortable when they’re coming to BC and make it less scary if you’re coming with a chronic illness that a lot of people don’t really understand,” Skok said.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor
This article has been updated to reflect the new name of the program: Chronic Illness Allies.