Diana Chao, Founder and Executive Director of Letters to Strangers

Photo by Jerm Cohen

diana [at] letterstostrangers.org

Diana Chao

Founder & Executive Director

I'm a 22-year-old first-generation Chinese-American immigrant from Southern California, a huge matcha fan, and an absolute chaotic good on the alignment chart. Growing up, I had a secret: I have bipolar disorder, and I didn't believe I deserved the air I breathed. After surviving a series of suicide attempts, I found healing from an unexpected source: writing. In writing letters to strangers, I realized that I wasn't alone - I never was alone. And you aren't, either. So as a sophomore in high school, I founded Letters to Strangers, which has since grown into a global youth-run organization that seeks to destigmatize mental illness and increase access to affordable, quality treatment. Among many other honors, the We Are Family Foundation named me a Global Teen Leader for this effort in 2017, I am the youngest winner of the Unilever Young Entrepreneurs Award, the only American winner of the 2019 Global Changemakers, the 2019 NAMI Young Leader Award winner, and I gave a TEDxTeen speech at the Playstation Theater in Times Square to a standing ovation. I also used to volunteer for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and the Lifeline Crisis Chat.


All of this has taught me that if we all had second chances, perhaps our lives would be so different. But not all of us are lucky enough to get a second chance. 

This is why I fight. I know personally that when all you understand is emptiness, one letter--one human connection--can save a life. Mental health matters; mental health is personal. I fight because I can't bear it otherwise.


hchen [at] letterstostrangers.org

Helen Chen

Chief Content Officer

Hello! My name is Helen and I’m from New York City! I love and miss my home so much, it has been such a big factor on my self growth and sense of individuality. Currently, I’m at Princeton University, Class of 2022. I was initially intrigued by the letter writing process provided by Letters to Strangers, but upon joining, I’ve come to learn that L2S is a lot more than the regular letters that I’ve previously written. I’ve honestly learned so much from being a part of this organization and it has supported me in ways that were very much necessary during my rough first year at college. I currently manage Letters to Strangers’s social media pages and I hope that through the process, I’ll be able to help us develop a more unique and individual style on our pages. I also hope to become more active on the mental health scene and in particular, I am looking to spread what L2S really means!

Clayton Becker

Chief Learning Officer

Younger generations always seem to get a bad rep. It often feels like the elder adults in our life don't really understand what we're going through, as though they've forgotten what it was like to be young and to deal with the 'less valid, less real' struggles that come at you as a young adult. At Letters to Strangers, it is my mission to make sure that people of all ages have someone, some resources, something to turn to that they feel actually gets it. Currently splitting my time between New York and California as part of the Columbia University class of 2020, I am committed to getting people the best information that addresses the multifaceted world we live in. There is no one size fits all when it comes to mental health, and I want nothing more than to help Letters to Strangers stay in the vanguard of the movement to make that clear to everyone and anyone.

clayton [at] letterstostrangers.org


Roark Chao

Chief Technology Officer

Technology gives long-lasting gratification. My name’s Roark Chao, and I’m a sucker for anything spanning from computer hardware to crustaceans. Using the internet, I’ve been able to socialize with people from around the globe, and in doing so, I’ve been exposed to various perspectives. Yet, one common theme exists: there is a lack of mental health awareness. I joined Letters to Strangers to try to change this, but my role has evolved far past that. As the glorified tech support, I’m resolving technical issues ranging from uninstalled drivers to physical computer hardware. Regardless, my overarching goal is to help destigmatize mental health through a combination of physical letters and technology. 


roark [at] letterstostrangers.org


dan [at] letterstostrangers.org

Dan Kanceljak

Chief Outreach Officer

Around sixty years ago, James Baldwin wrote that “love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within”.  One could argue that there have been few, if any, sentences that spoke so eloquently about the essence of our existence. Personally, I find Baldwin’s statement to be the perfect summary of my envisioned purpose at Letters to Strangers. For I wish to empower individuals, wherever they might be, to embrace who they truly are and by virtue of doing so, experience the beauty that is hidden behind the concept of love. If anyone would like to join me on this journey, I am only one email away.


paisley [at] letterstostrangers.org

Paisley Shultz

Communications Manager

Hello, everyone! My name is Paisley, and I am the Communications Manager for L2S. Majoring in industrial-organizational psychology at the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY Baruch College, I have a great interest in understanding how mental wellness impacts people’s performance in the workplace. In my free time, I love exploring New York City, going to art galleries, journaling, and relaxing with my friends. It is my goal for the blog to be a place where all writers have the opportunity to express themselves, build connections with their readers, help others understand the world around them, and imagine a more equitable existence for all. I am excited to create pieces that will make an impact. 

Aayush Gandhi

Research Assistant/Writer

Hi, my name is Aayush Gandhi! I’m a student and a prolific writer. Writing has always been my passion since I was a child. I’ve written several articles for L2S, along with an online book. In my free time, I write poems and fantasy stories. My current project is to create a poem done completely in ASL. Mental health has also been one of my biggest interests, with it being the focus of several poems. I truly believe that the world needs to be more aware of the stigma surrounding mental health issues and take steps to treat mental health disorders the same way they would treat a physical injury.

Darya Sanai

Finance Assistant

Hi, my name is Darya Sanai, and I am a high school student in the San Francisco bay area. Since September 2020, I have been volunteering for Letters to Strangers by preparing grant applications for new funding. When I saw that I could volunteer for Letters to Strangers, I was really excited. Not only is this organization a network for people to communicate with others, but it advocates for mental health and spreads awareness. I am really glad I have the opportunity to volunteer here and help in any way I can.