HomeMentor profiles: Meet our Allergy Pals/Allies mentors and register for the Spring session

Mentor profiles: Meet our Allergy Pals/Allies mentors and register for the Spring session

April 3, 2020

Allergy Pals and Allies

Our Allergy Pals/Allies online mentorship program wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and dedication of our incredible mentors. All of our mentors have food allergy, are part of our Youth Advisory Panel YAP, and know what it’s like to live with food allergy.  

As the Spring session starts in a few weeks (register now), we caught up with a few of our mentors, Alyssa, Lauren, and Ashlee, to learn their food allergy story, their experience, and how the program would have helped them when they were younger. Learn more in the mentor profiles below, and don’t forget to register your 7-15-year-old for the program today!

Alyssa Burrows, Mentor

My food allergy story

Alyssa Burrows

I always thought I was allergic to peanuts; I hated the smell to the point where it made me feel nauseous and itchy so I avoided them. When I was 13, I accidentally encountered peanuts in a Thai-food dish. Shortly after my first allergic reaction, I visited an allergist and was officially diagnosed with food allergy and at risk for anaphylaxis. I had to learn how to manage my food allergy while also gaining the independence of being a teenager. Unfortunately, I did encounter some food allergy bullying, however, this stemmed from a lack of understanding of allergies by my classmates. I do not look at my food allergy as a negative or as a barrier and instead seek out opportunities to advocate for the food allergy community and myself. As a result, I have done presentations on “How to be a good friend to someone with food allergies” to elementary school children, co-founded a food allergy club on my university campus, helped at Food Allergy Canada’s past conferences and volunteered for the organization too. I am also very interested in the field of immunology and have shadowed an allergist and worked in an allergy lab. All in all, having a food allergy is a lot of responsibility, but it can also be full of new opportunities and experiences such as being a mentee in Allergy Pals! 

My experience

I have been a mentor for over five years for both the Allergy Pals and Allergy Allies programs. While facilitating discussions I ensure every mentee is heard, respected and feels comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings and experiences. My enthusiasm, active listening skills, creativity and compassion are evident in the sessions that I facilitate. Additionally, all the mentors receive training before every session. This is a valuable time to hear updates about the program and to discuss challenges and successes during previous sessions. Mentorship is extremely important to me. Outside of Food Allergy Canada, I coordinate three programs at university, which focus on mentorship and providing resources and support to others. All the mentors in this program are incredibly passionate and will ensure your child’s session is a great one! 

How the program would have helped me when I was younger

This program would have been really valuable to me when I was younger. When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know anyone my age with a food allergy. I think it would have been helpful having the space to discuss the challenges and successes of living with a food allergy with people my age and someone who was a bit older. Sharing thoughts, feelings, experiences, tips and tricks would have provided me with reassurance. What I love most about the program is hearing how the mentees learn and become more comfortable with managing their food allergy and advocating for themselves. The resilience, self-advocacy, self-awareness and responsibility that mentees express are most certainly years beyond their non-food allergic peers. Additionally the program is a lot of fun and you will get to meet people all across Canada!

Lauren Aitchison, Mentor

My food allergy story

Lauren Aitchison

When I was a baby, I had a few reactions – for example, when my dad gave me a pizza crust to chew on when I was teething and when he gave me a cheerio from his cereal bowl. It was my grandma that started keeping track of every time I had a strange reaction and when she ended up with a list of all foods containing dairy, my parents got me tested for food allergy. Right before my first birthday they found out that I was allergic to dairy, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, eggs, and cocoa – and my mum had to figure out how to make an allergy-friendly birthday cake, which in 1993 was not easy! 27 years later, I am still allergic to dairy, nuts, and shellfish but have outgrown my egg and cocoa allergies. Also, my mum is now amazing at baking allergen-free cakes!

My experience

I have lived with food allergies for 28 years, 10 of those years without the direct support of my parents. I’ve been through middle school and high school with allergies during a time when peanut-free schools weren’t a thing and I was one of very few students with food allergy. So, I know what it feels like to be anxious about cross-contamination, sad about standing out, and frustrated at other kids that don’t understand the seriousness of food allergy.

On the flip side, I haven’t let my food allergies hold me back. I moved from the UK to Canada on my own for university when I was 18, I’ve been lucky to travel around the world safely, and currently work for a company that is great at accommodating not only my food allergies, but other people’s dietary restrictions as well. 

How the program would have helped me when I was younger

When I was younger, I didn’t know anyone else with food allergy so even though my parents were really supportive I didn’t feel like anyone truly understood what it was like. The Allergy Pals/Allies program would have been amazing for me because I could meet other kids with food allergy, chat through tough situations, and just have a community of other people like me!

Ashlee McGrath, Mentor

Ashlee McGrath

My food allergy story

When I was just a few months old I reacted to peanuts. After that, it seemed like every time we went to the allergist I had a new allergy! Now I am 14 years old and am allergic and at risk for anaphylaxis to five foods – peanut, tree nut, sesame, shellfish and avocado. 

My experience

I have food allergies, so I can relate to how the mentees are feeling. Since I have been through many experiences that they are going through with their food allergies, I can help them and give advice with my first-hand experience. I was also a mentee with Allergy Pals when I was younger, and I have been part of the program for seven years! Because of this, I understand the program really well and I’m a huge advocate for anyone with food allergy to join the Allergy Pals Program!

How the program would have helped me when I was younger

When I was younger, I had terrible food allergy anxiety! That is why my mom signed me up for Allergy Pals. The program helped me with my anxiety a lot and it helped me feel less alone. It also taught me how to handle hard situations in a fun way.

Thank you, Alyssa, Lauren, and Ashlee, for your incredible hard work and dedication to our Allergy Pals/Allies online mentorship program! #FoodAllergyChampions

Be sure to register your 7-15-year-old for our Allergy Pals/Allies online mentorship program led by our awesome mentors! The program is popular and fills up fast, so register now to save your child’s spot.

For more information about Allergy Pals/Allies online mentorship program visit foodallergycanada.ca/allergypals.

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