Have you ever been to sleepaway camp? What was it like learning to canoe for the first time or being part of a team?
Kids with diabetes don’t always get to have these types of experiences as a result of the challenges of their illness. Rising or falling blood sugars as well as other diabetes-related complications can keep kids from exploring all that an overnight camp may have to offer. Their disease might even make them stand out among their peers, ultimately resulting in isolation or embarrassment.
The Central Ohio Diabetes Association (CODA) has been operating camps designed specifically for children with diabetes since 1968. More than 7,500 youths have attended CODA’s summer camp, Camp Hamwi (named for Dr. George Hamwi, one of the co-founders of CODA). In fact, 2019 marks the 52nd year of consecutive camp offerings for children with diabetes.
At Camp Hamwi, campers ages 7-17 learn the importance of good diabetes control in their childhood and for a lifetime. In addition to Camp Hamwi, CODA offers Stepping Stones, a transitional day camp with an overnight outing for children ages 8-12, and Kids Camp, a day camp for children ages 3-7. A special program is offered for Counselors-In-Training, ages 17 & 18, with enrollment limited to individuals entering their senior year of high school who are looking for an opportunity to develop their leadership potential.
The 2019 camp season welcomed 10 campers to Kids Camp, 15 to Stepping Stones, and 176 to Camp Hamwi. These campers represented 36 Ohio counties with an additional camper coming from Illinois and two from West Virginia. CODA was founded in 1964, and merged with LifeCare Alliance in 2017. All three camps offer education opportunities for parents and families. Kids Camp and Stepping Stones offer group counseling and support services to parents who are anxious about leaving their children on their own – perhaps for the first time since their child’s diabetes was diagnosed.
These camp experiences would not be possible without the generous support of CODA funders. The Franklin County Community Partnership Grant Program has supported CODA camps since 2013. The Community Partnership Program is a competitive grant process whereby the Franklin County Board of Commissioners support local community-based organizations that serve county residents. As a direct result of this funding, campers learn to develop a personal diabetes management plan. The plan includes:
- A healthy meal plan.
- Regular physical exercise.
- Regular checks of blood glucose levels.
- Taking diabetes medications as prescribed.
The camp programming also helps children and parents learn about each element of the plan and to start practicing such positive behaviors as goal setting, self-monitoring, positive reinforcement, and shared responsibility for diabetes management. Eighty-six campers came from Franklin County this summer.
Similarly, the Ingram-White Castle Foundation has been supporting LifeCare Alliance and CODA camps for many years. The Foundation especially supports programs that address a critical human service need. Without this key support, CODA would not be able to provide scholarships for the nearly 200 campers that attend each summer. While the camp programs are designed primarily to promote the health of children with diabetes throughout their lifetime and to prevent the development of diabetes complications, they also teach self-care skills and help the participants develop confidence through appropriate medically supervised recreational activities. Most participants cite making new acquaintances with peers with whom they can share experiences and overcome feelings of isolation, fear, and anger as a valuable tool in helping them better manage their disease. Learning to manage diabetes helps ultimately prepare the campers for success in all aspects of life like school and work, which links to another area of emphasis for the Ingram-White Castle Foundation’s funding program.
Another funder without which CODA camps would not be possible is the New Venture Fund, which assists with CODA’s long-standing goal that no child with diabetes be turned away from having a camp experience because of their family’s economic situation.
For children who develop diabetes at a young age, it is crucial that they learn self-care skills such as blood sugar testing, insulin injections and the importance of adhering to diet and exercise regimens. Camp Hamwi offers diverse recreational programs for any skill level. The camp provides opportunities to develop team spirit and good sportsmanship in individual and group activities. Each camper is encouraged to try new activities and explore their individual interests. It is important that campers explore “new territory” by focusing more upon their potential than on imagined limitations imposed by diabetes. There are supervised opportunities for horseback riding, archery, volleyball, soccer, basketball, canoeing, swimming, rappelling, campfires, and arts and crafts. This funding is crucial in allowing diabetic kids to achieve their full potential as they learn how to manage their illness.
All of CODA’s camps are accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). This accreditation means that the camp maintains the highest professional standards in instruction, safety, and welfare for all campers. To maintain accreditation, the camp must meet or exceed standards in more than 300 areas. In recent years, the camping program has adapted to meet the needs of both campers and staff members who use insulin pumps. As the devices have increased in popularity and usage, approximately half of the campers and staff benefit from case-specific educational programs.
The Harry C. Moores Foundation, a longtime CODA camp funder, is located in Columbus, Ohio, and supports camps in order to make an impact in child welfare throughout the state. Many campers come from rural counties in Ohio where they might be the only student at their school with diabetes. Meeting other kids that also need to use an insulin pump or give themselves injections can be life-changing for those who are isolated by their condition. One camper, Katie, remarked about this topic, “You don’t have to think about having diabetes; it’s just the norm. You don’t have to apologize for being diabetic because they know what it’s like.” Helping kids ages 3-17 attend camp at little-to-no cost to their families is invaluable.
After camp ends, like it did this year on Aug. 3, staff complete a thorough outcome evaluation with campers and families to determine program and education components for the next year. Continuous quality improvement allows the program to better meet expressed education needs and adapt to requests among the participants. The camp education program has three focus areas: hypoglycemia awareness and treatment, bullying, and carb counting.
The CVS Health Foundation, another camp funder, is a great example of a corporate philanthropy program that helps campers take advantage of the camp curriculum to help better manage their disease. The Diabetes Camp Education Curriculum addresses every aspect of diabetes care including medical and psychosocial concerns. There are three levels of curriculum: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Daily education sessions are led by the medical staff of physicians, nurses, and dietitians who focus on teaching about the nature of diabetes and methods of managing it. The complexity of issues related to diabetes dictate a relatively high ratio of medical staff to campers (no less than one health professional to eight campers). This ratio is significantly higher than many diabetes camps. The medical coverage at Camp Hamwi ensures that any medical issues that arise will be addressed by qualified medical staff rather than by counselors or non-medical personnel.
A licensed social worker conducts psychosocial programs designed to increase self-esteem and feelings of empowerment. These learning opportunities promote attitudes of independence and self-reliance crucial to the tight control of diabetes that leads to the reduction of death and disability due to diabetes or its complications. These programs reinforce the work of the medical staff by enhancing commitment to systematic self-care and the level of glycemic control that leads to a full and healthy (near normal) lifestyle.
Thank you so much to all of our funders for making CODA camps so successful in 2019!