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According to the 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, nearly 1.6 million Americans have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) — up from 1.25 million people, or nearly 30%, from 2017.

Because of alarming statistics like these, the Central Ohio Diabetes Association (CODA) exists to help people navigate the unfamiliar waters of managing diabetes. This comes in the form of a quintessential childhood experience — summer camp.

“Lilly does not feel alone anymore,” explains mom Rebecca, who knows how important the camp experience is for her daughter with type 1 diabetes. “I cannot thank you enough for not stepping, but dive bombing into the uncomfortable unknown to make this year’s camp possible. It will help us get through this year.”

Virtual Camp participant Maya sharing her Camp Hamwi crafts.

Above: Camp participant Maya sharing her Camp Hamwi crafts.

Since 1968, more than 7,500 youths have participated in the CODA summer program, Camp Hamwi. CODA was founded in 1964 and merged with LifeCare Alliance in 2017. The camp is named after Dr. George Hamwi, a co-founder of CODA. For 53 years, the Central Ohio Diabetes Association’s camp programs have helped children with diabetes learn life-saving disease management skills in a safe, recreational environment.

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, there is a program called Stepping Stones, a transitional day camp for children ages 8-12, and Kids Camp for children ages three to seven. To further provide opportunities to new alumni of camp, CODA offers a special Counselors-In-Training program for 17- and 18-year-olds. This training allows recent high school graduates to develop strong leadership skills as they prepare for their next steps into college and the workforce.

Unique Experience for 2020

This year, as a result of COVID-19, CODA decided to hold a virtual camp in lieu of in-person gatherings. People with diabetes are more susceptible to developing infections, as high blood sugar levels have the potential to weaken the immune system defenses. Those with diabetes also have a higher potential of developing comorbidities that can further weaken their immune systems. For these reasons and best practices outlined by governmental authorities, campers remained at home this year.

Virtual camp ran from July 12-26 with varying activities based on age. Although our traditional form of camp has shifted, a plan was devised to bring this valuable experience and education directly to children’s own homes. For instance, CODA staff sent “Camp-at-Home” boxes to each participant, filled with their 2020 camp shirt, craft supplies, and other items to help them participate in virtual camp from home.

Using Zoom as their main platform for get-togethers, camp had three live sessions each day at 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m. At 12:30 p.m. was “cabin” time, which was unstructured time for peer-to-peer interactions. The 3 p.m. sessions were for scheduled learning sessions or a group craft. Learning sessions focused mostly on education and lifestyle choices. This included education on shifting from pediatricians to adult endocrinologists, learning how certain foods affect blood sugars, and becoming more independent with their own care. Each night at 7, campers enjoyed a big group activity, which could be anything from a virtual escape room, talent show, bingo, Jackbox games, and more.

Funders Made Camp Possible

Despite the unexpected change to the virtual format, camp was a success this year. Maintaining the camp experience in this extraordinary time would not be possible without the generous support of CODA funders.

Since 2013, the Franklin County Community Partnership Grant Program through the Franklin County Commissioners has supported CODA camp. This year, 26 campers came from Franklin County. CODA camp programs directly support the Franklin County Commissioners’ Core Principle of providing supportive health and human services. CODA camp programs increase access to basic healthcare by providing education, resources, and socialization options through learning new skills in a supportive environment. The goals of CODA’s camp and youth programs for its participants include:

  • Increased diabetes knowledge and self-management skills;
  • Implementation of new knowledge acquired at camp;
  • Increased level of confidence and self-esteem attributable to the camping experience; and
  • Demonstrably greater acceptance of their diabetic condition.

The Ingram-White Castle Foundation has been a longtime supporter of LifeCare Alliance and provided funding for CODA camp since the 2017 merger. The Ingram-White Castle Foundation specifically aids programs that address a critical human service need. Without this key support, CODA would not be able to provide scholarships for campers that attend each summer. One of the many critical skills attained at CODA’s youth and camp programs is developing a personal diabetes management plan, which many have not yet gained the knowledge to create on their own. The plan includes a healthy meal plan, regular physical exercise, regular checks of blood glucose levels, and taking diabetes medications as prescribed. The programs also help children and parents learn about each element of the plan and to start practicing such positive behaviors such as goal setting, self-monitoring, positive reinforcement, and shared responsibility for diabetes management.

Above: Camp Hamwi attendee Logan creating a snack with his fellow campers.

New Venture Fund supports CODA camps to help more low-income participants attend summer camp. For children who develop diabetes at a young age, it is crucial they learn self-care skills such as blood sugar testing, insulin injections, and the importance of adhering to diet and exercise regimens.

The Harry C. Moores Foundation, a longtime funder of not only CODA camp but other LifeCare Alliance programs, is located in Columbus and supports camps in order to make an impact in child welfare throughout the state. This year camp welcomed youths from 13 Ohio counties, with additional campers coming from West Virginia, Texas, and Tennessee. A number of campers reside in rural Ohio counties where they might be the only student in school with diabetes. Being able to interact with their peers who are also learning to manage their diagnosis can be a meaningful experience for those feeling secluded—now exacerbated by the effects of the coronavirus—by their condition.

Support, Comfort, and Connection

While CODA camp is designed primarily to promote the health of children with diabetes throughout their lifetime and to prevent the development of diabetes complications, it also teaches self-care skills and helps develop confidence through appropriate medically supervised recreational activities. The majority of campers comment on how much more normal they feel having made new friendships with peers experiencing the same hardships and social anxieties that come with being a diabetic youth. As one parent remarked, “I know Sammie missed ‘real’ camp, but I still feel like this provided a lot of support, comfort, and connection for the kids.”  This newfound camaraderie serves as an immeasurable aid in helping them overcome the many obstacles associated with their disease.

As camp came to a close on July 26, camp staff completed a thorough outcome evaluation with participants 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 campers. Even with the virtual format, said Youth & Family Programs Director Anthony Myer commented, “Virtual Camp blew all of our expectations out of the water! Campers connected with their peers in new and exciting ways. The programs went extremely well and the participation truly made camp magical this year!”

Without the support from the above-listed funders, and additional grants from the Knox County Foundation, Licking County Foundation, City of Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, the Columbus Medical Association Foundation Youth Advisory Council, and the Richland County Foundation, the unexpected and swift change to virtual camp would not have been possible.

Thank you so much to all of our incredible funders for making Camp Hamwi Virtual Camp so successful in 2020!

-By Stephanie Rowe Bencic, LifeCare Alliance

Above: Camper Charlie making the most out of virtual camp at home.

Learn more

Visit the Central Ohio Diabetes Association’s page to learn more about Camp Hamwi!

Lilly enjoying virtual camp at home.