We are always happy to meet other food allergy advocates in the community; especially exceptional ones like Hemali! Hemali is a high school junior who has struggled with food allergies for over a decade. Hemali is the founder of K12Allergies.
Tell us a little about yourself:
Living in a small town, my parents didn’t have access to a food allergy community and people to talk to while they were going through the long journey to diagnose my allergies; so, I began to focus on making this supposedly negative situation into a positive one by becoming a food allergy advocate in my community to make sure new food allergy parents are informed about their kids’ allergies and local educators know how to manage both the physical and emotional reactions that food allergies cause. During COVID is when I founded the nonprofit K12Allergies to provide a place for new food allergy parents to learn about the journey through diagnosis, living with, and outgrowing allergies from experienced parents and become aware of all the resources available online to help them. I realized that although the technology was available to my parents during this journey, they didn’t know which organizations were helpful and therefore, couldn’t utilize some amazing resources to learn more about allergies; K12Allergies now exists so that new food allergy parents don’t face this same struggle. I am also very passionate about increasing food allergy awareness in my hometown in Northwest Arkansas as food allergies are on the rise but there is still a lot of negativity associated with them in schools (hence the emphasis on K12). I have come to understand that food allergies have shaped my life for the better and it is her wish that others can also start thinking about them as an opportunity to grow and learn rather than just causing restrictions.
Tell us a little about your website and your aim to provide food allergy education:
K12 Allergies’ origin starts with my food allergy story. Randomly, at seven years of age, I started breaking out into eczema/hives all over my body. These flares would increase on some days and decrease on others, so we as a family with the help of a physician figured out that these were allergies, but it became a mystery as to what the allergen could be. After an inconclusive skin prick test and blood test, my parents set out on a lengthy elimination diet, where they would take out specific allergens from my diet over weeks at a time and started to track my breakouts during this time in a food journal. What could’ve helped my parents was a community, people to take advice from, and resources from which they could learn more about allergies. During the initial COVID-19 pandemic when I had some spare time on my hands, I started asking food allergy families on social media about their experiences with their kids and if they would find such a platform useful as well. And I had always wondered – how were other kids diagnosed? The responses I received were illuminating as to the vast types of allergies and reactions that kids around the world face. I received much positive feedback about how such a platform could help parents and decided to create it. I made K12Allergies a resource that I wish my parents would have had.
What inspired your organization?
My organization was inspired by my parent’s struggles with diagnosing my food allergies and how a simple google search on food allergies yielded few helpful resources but rather information physicians already provided. I’ve seen firsthand how kids are impacted by food allergies and am striving to lessen this impact through involvement in community events so allergy kids can feel more included.
What services do you offer? Can you tell us a little about them?
- Resources for parents of children with food allergies!
There are so many organizations online helping to educate & support those with food allergies. We provide a comprehensive list of these websites and our partners at K12Allergies.com/Resources!
2. A place to give back!
You can help future/current food allergy parents by submitting your story through diagnosis, living with, and outgrowing kids’ food allergies. By submitting the form at K12Allergies.com/Share, you can give parents advice you wish you would’ve known and the tips and tricks you learned throughout the journey.
3. Past food allergy parent’s experiences
Have you ever wondered how other kids with food allergies were diagnosed? Whether they outgrew their allergies or not? What different things they were allergic to? You can find all these answers online at K12Allergies.com/Explore! You can search for stories by specific allergens, medications, or reactions. There is also advice and resources from these parents!
4. Interviews with local allergy/education professionals
We also interview local allergists and educators and get their outlook on food allergies: what food allergies are, how they are diagnosed, how someone can be desensitized, what measures schools are taking to prevent social isolation of food allergies, etc. You can find these on our Facebook page, @K12Allergies.
What sets your nonprofit apart? What is your motivation for bringing allergy awareness?
My nonprofit is unique in that it focuses on kids’ allergies and features previous food allergy parents’ stories. I wanted to make these stories accessible on a simple searchable platform (like the K12Allergies Explore page is now) without having to sign up for anything. My motivation to spread food allergy awareness stems from my experiences with peers and educators throughout my childhood. There’s a lot of mocking associated with food allergies [in school] because of the ignorance kids in elementary have. Educators do the best they can but without the right education about allergies, they too sometimes can’t prevent this. The difference between food allergies, intolerances, and preferences isn’t clear to kids. With food allergies on the rise, this needs to be changed so kids with allergies feel more comfortable in their schools socially and emotionally. Through K12Allergies, I hope to start this change through Epipen Training for educators and talks about food allergies to kids in my local community of Northwest Arkansas.
Do you recommend this for both new food allergy parents and ‘veteran’ food allergy parents?
Yes! There is a place for both new food allergy parents, to explore stories similar to their own experiences and connect with those parents, and for experienced food allergy parents, to give advice and share their stories.
Is there anything else you would like to share that we did not ask?
I would encourage everyone to check out my website K12Allergies.com, and share your food allergy story there! I would appreciate it and it would help future food allergy parents in their journey 🙂
This post is a written interview with Hemali from K12Allergies and Joy Meyer, Co-Director of The FPIES Foundation.