Did you know the American Diabetes Association (ADA) hosts summer camps for children and teens with diabetes? This year marks the organization’s 70th year hosting camps, which are found nationwide.
The ADA expects early 7,000 campers, their siblings, and children at-risk of diabetes, ages 4-17, to attend one of 80 camp sessions to enjoy a traditional summer camp experience in a medically safe environment.
“Camps can be an important part of childhood and teenage years,” Kelly Mueller, vice president, consumer & community impact, ADA tells dLife. “They teach community building, new skills, and independence all in a fun, active, and engaging environment.”
Mueller says campers also typically transition into leadership development programs, counselor-in-training programs, counselors, and medical staff roles as they get older and stay connected to this important community.
“These skills translate across ages and backgrounds and remain an important part of life,” says Mueller.
What’s A Typical Camp Day Like?
Overnight camps typically start on a Sunday afternoon with camper check-in, dinner, and an opening campfire or all-camp game.
Monday activities start with a 7:30 a.m. breakfast following blood glucose monitoring and management (meeting with the camper’s medical team, counting carbs, and deciding on insulin dose), cabin clean-up, and a full set of activities—swimming, hiking, arts and crafts, archery, sports, and more.
Snack is mid-morning and lunch preparation starts around 11:30-noon with blood glucose checking and management.
The afternoon is filled with more activities and almost always involves an all-camp swim time as well as cabin time for campers and staff to take a break and hang out as a group.
Afternoon snack and dinner preparation involve more blood glucose checking and management.
The evenings are filled with an all-camp activity like capture the flag or various special events dreamed up by the programming staff.
Campers head back to their cabins for night snack anywhere from 8-10 p.m., depending on their ages, check their blood glucose, and meet with their medical teams.
The medical teams evaluate daily blood glucose logs and make a plan for overnight diabetes management with most campers checked again at midnight and many at 2 or 3 a.m.
Day camps are similar in activities and typically run from 8 or 9 in the morning until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Typically, day camps are for younger children (4-12) with teens as role-models and teen helpers in addition to the 18+ counseling and medical staff.
Nearly all ADA campers attend camp without their families.
“This promotes independence and leads to many first-time achievements such as administering their own insulin injection, counting carbs for the first time on their own, and even spending the night without their parents or guardians,” says Mueller.
“Some of our camps welcome siblings and friends to attend as this helps campers to build confidence and a social support system that translates to their home and/or school environment,” she adds.
Many of the day camps engage families at drop-off and pick-up with 30-minute education sessions or “ask the expert” opportunities with the pediatric endocrinologists who volunteer at camp all week long.
And, at one day camp — ADA Camp Rainbow, near Houston Texas — the families get a hotel block near-by and while campers are at camp during the day.
They are able to go on outings with siblings and other families, coming back together at night for swimming in the hotel pool and more time together.
What Precautions Does the Camp Take?
Mueller says the ADA truly sets the standards for medical care at summer camps.
“We review, update, and train all staff and volunteers in the most up-to-date protocols, resources and policies to ensure safe operations throughout the summer,” she says.
All camp directors are also certified by the American Camping Association and programs achieve accreditation by the American Camping Association as well as State licensure by their department of health.
More than 2,500 staff and volunteers — the majority of whom are medical experts — ensure the safety of all campers 24-hours per day.
Blood glucose is monitored continuously throughout the day and night and managing diabetes is a standard part of our schedule — just like at home.
The Many Benefits of Camping
There are many benefits to the camp, including giving opportunities for campers to build life-long friendships, overcome feelings of isolation, and become empowered to manage their diabetes.
“Most notably, campers and families tell us that this is the first time that they feel they have truly found their community,” says Mueller. “Campers make friends that last a lifetime with other campers their age who truly understand what it is like to live with diabetes.”
These relationships lead to key outcomes and goals of the program, which are the following:
· Build confidence in managing diabetes
· Reduce feelings of isolation and foster community-building
· Advance skills for daily diabetes management
The ADA summer camps also constantly strive to advance their knowledge, policies, and support for the great advances in diabetes technology — sensor-integrated pumps, continuous glucose monitors, insulin pens and the do-it-yourself (DIY) systems.
“Our goal is to support campers in managing their diabetes with the same tools and resources that they use at home, school, and/or daycare,” says Mueller.
Most of the camps are at full capacity with a waiting list by the opening day. Some programs fill up within days or weeks of opening registration and some of the largest programs have open spots until a few weeks before camp.
“As we continue to grow and advance, we are typically limited only by the size of our partner site and the number of medical staff volunteers to safely run the program,” Muller indicates. “To ensure that all campers are able to attend camp, we offer need-based financial aid in addition to a tiered pricing structure where parents can select the amount that they are able to pay.”
Mueller advises families to register as early as possible. Payment plans along with financial aid are available to lower the financial burden for families.
Where are the Camps Offered?
ADA camps engage campers from all states in the U.S. and are the largest single provider of summer camps in the world.
In addition to the ADA’s programs, there are a number of independent summer camp programs that serve campers with diabetes.
“Many of these programs are supported by Association resources like medical training, the sharing of best practices and reciprocal relationships with referrals when programs are full or do not meet the desired timing of families,” explains Mueller.
She tells dLife the “industry” around camps for children with diabetes is close-knit and the Association does not plan to expand into states or areas where other camps meet the needs and serve families but rather to support our fellow camps with training, resources, and sharing so that all children have the opportunity to attend safe and life-changing programs.
The Association continues to focus on best-in-class program delivery and community expansion throughout the year to engage newly-diagnosed families and campers with weekend events, school-break programming, and connected-for-life events that foster community and reunion with friends from the summer.
American Diabetes Association, Camp Needlepoint in 1957. Image courtesy: ADA.
Looking back, what’s the biggest advancement of the camps?
In addition to the incredible advances in diabetes management options (new insulins, meters, insulin administration with smart pens, sensor-integrated pumps, and continuous glucose management), the opportunities for the community, education, and skill-building have changed significantly, according to Mueller.
“Typically, newly-diagnosed children were given a significant amount of education upon their diagnosis, mostly in an inpatient hospital setting,” says Mueller. “Changes in healthcare, models of education, and access to the expertise of certified diabetes educators, endocrinologists and trained primary care providers have become hurdles.”
Many parents share that their diagnosis occurred in an outpatient setting—changing the paradigm of education.
“Camp is one of the very few places that provide immersive experiential education in a safe environment,” says Mueller. “Camp gives an opportunity to foster relationships, education, and experiences that translate to daily life and support families on their journey to manage diabetes. ”
The ADA camps also evaluate their program satisfaction, and are proud to receive world-class scores with scales like the “Net Promoter Score.”
Managing and operating camps across the country requires a significant investment.
In addition to the skilled medical staff available around-the-clock, campers are provided with insulin, test strips, glucose tabs, syringes, monitoring supplies and more.
ADA’s partner contributions help to fill the funding gap, provide financial aid to families in need.
The National Strategic Sponsor for the 2019 camp season is Novo Nordisk.
The camps program is also supported by grants from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and Lilly Diabetes.
“The ADA is honored to have served families living with diabetes through a summer camp for 70 years and we are excited to continue until we find a cure,” says Mueller. “The Association, families, campers, staff, volunteers, and community are proud to be connected for life.”
Click here to learn more about ADA Camps for children with diabetes.
Featured image: Courtesy ADA.