Ah, summer camp. Many of us have fond memories of camp when we were younger. Swimming, building fires, horseback riding, making friends—these are what a boy or girl will remember for a lifetime. If your child has diabetes, though, thinking about sending him or her off to camp without your supervision might make you very nervous.
Imagine a camp where every camper and even some of the counselors and staff have diabetes, where no child or teen with diabetes feels different. Sounds wonderful, right? Well, they exist, and kids and teenagers all over the country are heading off to them this summer.
For more than 70 years, the American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Camps have provided a special time for kids with diabetes. Camp is a place to gain self-confidence, learn more about diabetes self-management, make life-long friends with other kids with diabetes and simply to have a great time.
This summer, there are 40 camps in 25 states, including 15 day camps and 25 resident camps. Other than the health aspects, there’s very little difference between American Diabetes Association camps and any other summer camp. The classic camp activities, such as canoeing, archery and ropes courses, are still there. While having fun, campers also learn a lot about living with diabetes. But don’t worry—it’s nothing like a school classroom! By using teachable moments, camp medical staff help campers learn more about their diabetes management.
Let’s hear from some past campers and parents!
• “I wanted to write you and all the folks involved for the wonderful camp experience. It obviously takes a huge amount of energy, organization and volunteers to accomplish what you all did, and it is so beautifully successful. I just want you to know how appreciated it is!
“Nick cannot stop talking about camp and actually went to bed last night teary, missing his bunkmates and being at camp. He had such fun, which was our biggest goal, but he also stated on the ride home: ‘Mom, I really think I am a better diabetic after going to camp.’ That was music to my ears!”
—Mother of a camper
• “The Sunday night before Andy attended Camp New Horizons for the first time, he stood in the kitchen and stated, ‘You are going to MAKE me go, aren’t you?’ He was not happy with me. At 12 years old, he had no desire to even meet others with diabetes and didn’t like the concept of camp.
“Monday afternoon, I returned to camp to pick up a child who had just won the water drinking award, made several friends and didn’t want to leave! Since that time, Andy has returned to camp every year as a CIT and then as a counselor. June 2011 will be his tenth year at camp New Horizons. Guiding and encouraging kids at camp has led him to a career of working with kids with special needs in home health settings. His heart is for kids, and he seeks to help them make life ‘do-able,’ just as experiences like New Horizons have done for him.”
—Sarah K. Rhodes, parent of Andy, a New Horizons former camper [Texas]
• “My biggest worry was that I wouldn’t make friends. I first attended camp when I was eight, and at that time, I didn’t know any other children with diabetes and didn’t really know how to interact with them. What were we supposed to talk about, shots and carbs? I had no idea.
“But as it turned out, I made plenty of friends the first day, and we were able to talk about completely normal things. It was the first time I didn’t feel totally left out since being diagnosed. No one stared or looked confused when I was testing my blood glucose or giving a shot, because everybody else had to do the same thing. Nobody questioned it, and we were able to look past our condition and just see each other as normal kids. Everyone accepted each other.
“To this day, many of my close friends are fellow campers that I met all those summers ago. Anyone who goes to camp will experience the same feeling of belonging that I did, I guarantee it.”
—Camper of Camp AZDA [Arizona]
• “When our son attended camp AZDA for the first time he was 7 years old and had only had diabetes for 6 months. We experienced the typical concerns any parent would have when sending a 7-year-old away by themselves for a week for the first time: Will he be homesick? Will he make friends? Will he change his underwear? But there were the brand new added concerns of: Who will count his carbs? Who will measure his bolus? Who will give him his shots? Who will remind him to test his blood? Who will make him change his clothes?
We quickly learned that our concerns, although typical of most parents, were very silly. Camp AZDA is probably as safe an environment as a kid with diabetes can be in. Knowledgeable staff, many of them who have diabetes themselves, are everywhere, and all of the concerns I expressed above were the #1 priority for everyone involved in the camp.
Our son came home a different person. He was measuring his own bolus, counting his own carbs and giving himself his shots. Ultimately, the answer to all of our concerns about WHO will be taking care of him was, with plenty of encouragement from AZDA staff, was HIMSELF. From that point forward, we have lived under the mantra of our son has diabetes; diabetes does not have our son.”
—Parents of Camp AZDA camper [Arizona]
To learn more about the Association’s summer camps for young people with diabetes, visit http://diabetes.org/camp.