First, a little announcement/disclaimer from me: I have recently been hired as the Camp Director for the Harrisburg Diabetic Youth Camp. I am thrilled about it and excited to make camp successful for many years to come. This post is directly dealing with camp and why I think it is important so I just wanted to put that out there so you all know the perspective I’m coming from now. I’ve always been very pro-camp and have always done whatever I could to promote but it is kind of my job now. However, I’d be writing this post no matter what and this post has absolutely nothing to do with me being camp director. Ok, now that that’s out of the way…
Since it’s Spring, and almost Summer, and camp is sneaking up on us, and since there has been a few mentions of diabetes camping thanks to Bret Michaels’s appearance on Celebrity Apprentice, I thought I’d write a post about WHY diabetes camp is important. I know a lot of people might not think that it is. I know that a lot of people might equate diabetes camp to some other kind of camp like basketball or drama or girl scout camp. They think it’s just a grouping of kids who have something in common, and it’s not a huge deal.
Our mission at HDYC has always been to give kids a normal camp experience. Our founders wanted to give kids with diabetes the opportunity to have the same camping adventures that their non-diabetic peers were having. Since then, however, camp has evolved into something far more important than just a campfire and a sing-along (although those are clearly important to the whole experience).
To put it simply, diabetes camp is extremely beneficial to children with diabetes. There have been many studies done to prove this including on in Turkey, one at the Joslin Diabetes Center, and one that Setebaid Services (the organization that runs my camp) has participated in. Kids who attend diabetes camp learn more about diabetes management and how to independently care for themselves. Kids who have attended camp have a better knowledge of their own care.
How and why does diabetes camp make such a positive impact on kids? Well, for many reasons. As we all know, people with diabetes have a much higher risk of developing depression than people who don’t have diabetes. The stress involved with dealing with this 24/7/365 disease can make anyone feel pretty awful, especially if a person has no outlet. Isolation is a huge problem when it comes to diabetes. People with diabetes often feel like they are all alone and no one understands them. This can make caring for the diabetic body even more stressful and difficult. Camp helps resolve this problem. When you come to camp, you meet all kinds of people with diabetes who are willing to talk about anything and everything involved with diabetes. Most campers and staff members keep in touch year-round, especially now that things like email and Facebook exist.
These people are also a fantastic resource for any problems you might be having. From where to try a new infusion site to how to bolus for something crazy to “OMG I ran out of test strips and can’t get anymore,” there is almost always someone to help you out. Some of the people at camp have had diabetes for decades, and can offer the best advice you could ever ask for. Most kids with diabetes see an endocrinologist and some see a diabetes educator, but there is nothing like learning from someone who lives with diabetes everyday.
I like to think that one of the major reasons I am so healthy today is because of camp. It has kept me sane through nearly 21 years of living with diabetes. I met one of my best friends at diabetes camp. My whole life has really been better because I went to camp. I know a lot of people don’t have quite this much of an attachment to camp, but most are very positively influenced by it and would probably say it changed their lives for the better. In fact, I’ve gotten in contact (thanks to Facebook) with several of our HDYC alumni, and they all still talk about how much they loved camp.
If you or your kiddo hasn’t been to camp, please think about going! And you don’t have to be a camper to go to camp! Being a counselor is just as rewarding. Check out the Diabetes Education and Camping (DECA) website to find a camp near you.
And if you’re looking for a diabetes-related cause to support other than the big ones, please consider donating to your local diabetes camp! It may not sound as important as research for a cure, but it really truly helps keep people alive and healthy!