Steps Toward Adult Responsibility:
The S.T.A.R. Program for Adolescents with Chronic Illness
The S.T.A.R. Program began in September 1997. The program is located at the Special Needs Support Center in Lebanon, NH, an agency serving the needs of children and families with any kind of special need. The STAR Program is designed to help teens with chronic illness develop healthy coping and adjustment skills as they transition through adolescence to adulthood.
The S.T.A.R. program was made possible by a local benefactor, Phyllis Wilson, Ed.D., who pledged to fund S.T.A.R. over a five-year period in memory of her daughter, Phyllis Ruth Wilson. Phyllis Ruth contracted polio at a very young age and died accidentally at the young age of 38. As a result of her polio-induced physical restriction, which was a great source of estrangement from her peers, she battled with great adversity throughout her young adult years.
Although polio is no longer a problem in most areas of the world, the adversity and coping difficulties faced by young adults with chronic medical conditions are just as prevalent today. The S.T.A.R. program targets teens with a diverse group of chronic illnesses, including (but not limited to) diabetes, asthma, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, Crohn's disease/colitis, seizure disorders and cerebral palsy. It recognizes that the difficult challenges in emotional development caused by a chronic illness are often even harder for adolescents in rural areas like Northern New
England, because it is unlikely that they will live near others who are in a similar situation.
Accordingly, a main focus of the S.T.A.R. program is the development of social support. During the spring of 1998, Dr. Mark Detzer and the S.T.A.R. Program joined forces with Kate Creskoff, a rising senior at Dartmouth College, and the Koop Institute to develop some support programs for teens in the program and to create an opportunity for them to share their stories. Teens involved in a focus group run by the STAR Program wrote their stories about living with chronic physical illness. One of the group attendees described the experience of sitting in a room and connecting with teens of various conditions "a blast!" These stories were eventually published and can be viewed in the Resources section of the Koop Institute's website, as well as on www.starprogram.net. Another result of this collaboration was the birth of a group mentoring program for teens with chronic illness and Dartmouth students living with similar chronic illnesses. The program also offers a concurrent support group for parents of the teens. STAR is now in it's 13th year of helping to build supportive relationships and develop life skills for adolescents with chronic illness. For further information about the STAR Program, please visit their homepage at www.starprogram.net.