Diabetes Forecast

Planning for ADA Diabetes Camps

A year of work goes into each week of summer fun

By Lindsey Wahowiak , , ,
Diabetes Camp: It’s a place where I can be one of the normal people. They have extra equipment, and a lot of nurses to make sure that I’m OK, and every day they have classes so that I can learn more about managing my diabetes.
Max Benzinger, ADA Diabetes Camp participant

For many kids with diabetes, the week they spend at diabetes camp each summer is a magical time. But the camp story isn't confined to a single week in the summertime. Gearing up to provide more than 5,300 children with the camp experience of a lifetime begins almost as soon as the previous year's campers head home—and sometimes even earlier, says Suzanne Apsey, director of the American Diabetes Association's Chicago-area camps (four day camps and two overnight ones). "At camp, we're already talking about the next year," Apsey says. "We're already talking about supplies."

By early fall, organizers assess what's needed for the upcoming summer. They make tweaks to the camp application and prepare for the onslaught of information that's headed their way, when camp registration opens (in February for most camps). Some camps fill up immediately. Others aren't completely booked until mid- to late May.

Asked this winter if slots were still open for June 2013 camp sessions in Wisconsin, camp director Penny Kasprzak said, "I am so proud to tell you that we booked up in nine hours." But that's just step one of the application process. It can include up to 19 different pages that need to be signed by parents and doctors, such as a complete medical report, a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) form, and behavior contracts. Those pages come in piecemeal, and camp directors organize all the information as it arrives.

Once completed, each child's camp application is pored over by the camp's medical staff, led by endocrinologists and other diabetes specialists who volunteer their time each year to participate in diabetes camp. The medical staff prepares individual treatment plans for each child, prepping not only for diabetes management but for any other health or behavioral issues for each child. That information then goes to the counseling staff, who will work one-on-one with the kids all week—nothing like a typical visit to a doctor's office. "It's all in the thought of keeping their kids safe for the [time] that we have them there at camp," says Carole Lieber, director of the ADA's Houston-area camp.

While children and their parents apply for camp, organizers work with pharmaceutical companies and local organizations to secure supplies. ADA Diabetes Camps are run with the help of many, many donations—often resulting in supplies valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per camp. The charitable gifts are a blessing for the camps and keep costs down. Diabetes camp can run anywhere from free of charge to more than $1,200 (for a two-week session). In Wisconsin, Camp Lakota is just $135 for a weeklong overnight session. Without donations, though, families would face camp fees of 10 times that much, Kasprzak says.

"Our camp has a tremendous history, and it would not be possible without a partnership with the Wisconsin Lions Camp," Kasprzak says. "We have held our camp there for the last 13 or 14 years, and they do not charge us anything for [use of] the camp."

Pack Your Knapsack

Want to attend an American Diabetes Association Diabetes Camp? There may still be openings in some camps across the country. For those who need financial aid, the Association also awards more than $440,000 in camper scholarships per year. Lilly Diabetes is donating $90,000 this year to fund 90 "camperships"—one for every year since the introduction of commercial insulin. To learn more or to register, visit diabetes.org/camp.

Adults who want to volunteer at a camp near them can also visit the website to contact local camp directors. Deadlines for volunteering vary camp by camp, as do guidelines for those who want to make donations.

All Association camps work with local and national companies in order to have enough insulin, meters, and test strips for each child. Providing diabetes supplies streamlines organization for each camp and gives parents a little financial reprieve from having to purchase more supplies, says Shana Funk, director of the ADA's youth and family strategic planning. The two residence camps in the Chicago area, which serve approximately 230 campers, will go through 215 bottles of glucose tablets (10,750 tablets!) this summer. They'll burn through 1,500 insulin pen needles and 200 infusion sets. And by the end of the week, they'll have used more than 11,000 lancets. In Houston, ADA staff and volunteers load up a 16-foot rental truck full of supplies. The truck will be empty by camp's end.

Making sure enough supplies are secured is no walk in the park, says Apsey. Fortunately, she says, families also offer to make donations. Gift cards are especially helpful when, for instance, a juice-box supply is running low on the fourth day of camp. "One mom in one of the day camps will come to me and just say, 'Tell me what you need. Is it paper towels, or more juice boxes, or crayons?' " Apsey says. "There's no way to do this without the donations … because there's always a hang-up. There's always got to be a hitch someplace."

Luckily, the camps are well staffed to handle that kind of hiccup. More than 2,000 medical staff and volunteers help make the camps successful, often taking their own vacation time to do so. In the Houston area, for example, the bulk of the medical staff comes from Texas Children's Hospital, says Lieber. Some 45 women from the Junior League of Houston help with craft projects for the campers. Registered dietitians work with each camp, going over each camper's dietary needs to craft individual meal plans for every child. Part of the flurry of preparation involves getting the volunteers ready to work with the kids. Camp directors accept volunteer applications, run background checks, complete interviews, and check references before training begins.

Jody Gosain, RN, CDE, has been an ADA Diabetes Camps volunteer for 19 years, including at Camp Discovery in Illinois for the past seven years. She first volunteered with a camp for college credit. Little did she know that her volunteer work would inspire her to become a diabetes nurse practitioner.

Now, Gosain trains other volunteers who will spend summer weeks at diabetes camp. Each volunteer gets an online handbook on camp guidelines and attends a hands-on training session in the run-up before camp, as well as two days' training before campers arrive. Medical staff members train laypeople in diabetes management so they are equipped in case of an emergency.

The training pays off, says Gosain. "We have a really strong core group of people," she says. "And the teenagers [who volunteer as junior counselors], all of them are previous campers. They know how to take care of diabetes because most of them have diabetes or a sibling with diabetes. Teens are like superheroes to these little kids. They're role models just by being in the same room as them."

That's what inspires a volunteer such as Casey Mitchell of Clintonville, Wis., to return as a counselor to Camp Lakota, where she first attended diabetes camp at age 8. Now 23, Mitchell was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 6. At many camps, so many former campers want to come back as counselors that some must be turned away. That's a testament to what camp is all about: It inspires young people with diabetes to live fully and build friendships with other kids like them.

Max Benzinger, 13, of Wauwatosa, Wis., knows this. He's been going to camp since he was 8 years old, after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 5. "It's a place where I can be one of the normal people," he says. "They have extra equipment, and a lot of nurses to make sure that I'm OK, and every day they have classes so that I can learn more about managing my diabetes. It's not like I'm different or anything; this is something that other people are doing, too."



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