Diabetes Camp: A Home Away from Home

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]

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To learn more about the Association’s summer camps for young people with diabetes, visit http://diabetes.org/camp.

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12 Responses to Diabetes Camp: A Home Away from Home

  1. Michelle says:

    I am a nurse. I would like more information about these camps and any employment/volunteer opportunities that may be available for the 2013 season.

  2. Leticia Gonzalez says:

    I was just would like to have more info about the camp.

  3. Andrea Simard says:

    My daughters, ages 9 and 11, just returned from Camp MIDICHA in Fenton, Michigan, after their fifth year. They stay in different cabins (of course!) and look forward to seeing friends from years past, but also make new friends each time. Their confidence in carb counting, site changes, and overall diabetes wellness issues continues to grow! I am blessed to have a place for them to be with other children dealing with the same things they do every day, and also have a brief but wonderful respite of care. Also dealing with newly diagnosed celiac disease, my youngest said her food choices were awesome! Thank you!

  4. Cindy says:

    Camp Chief Ouray in Colorado was so much fun as a kid. The only thing that makes me sad is that a good number of the kids I went to camp with are no longer living. I am so grateful to have made it past 40 years of being diabetic. And also grateful for how far we’ve come–no more Clinitest, no more beef-pork insulin, no more one shot a day. Now we have home glucose monitoring, insulin pumps, genetically engineered insulin, and CGMs. Now if only a cure! I know that today’s kids who are going to summer camp will live into their ripe old ages, which they deserve to do!

  5. Hello-

    CaliDesignz has been a local sponsor for American Diabetes in San Jose and helping to print shirts for any of there events we would like to know how we can help with the Diabetes Camp?

    Thanks

    -Richard

  6. Kimberly Petriga says:

    My daughter, 10 yrs, went to camp Freedom in PA for the first time this past June. She wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of going, since she’s never with out my husband and myself. But she was trying to rationalize it out, thinking if she wants to go to camp, this is the only kind she can go to.

    She loved it. It seems like yesterday when she was diagnosed, but it has been 3 yrs. Being at camp made her rethink on getting the pump. So we have our first class in 2 weeks. It is a little sad that non of the girls she met, live near us. When she got home, she was like – when does next year’s start.

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