Summer camp can be an oasis for kids. A chance to play all day long, make new friends and master new skills. But, for many young children with diabetes, traditional camp is not a possibility as the camps are not equipped to deal with their special health needs.
In 1997, Families with Diabetes in collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, created the Robert K. Sweeney Summer Fun Days Camp at the Suffolk County Farm and Education Center in Yaphank, NY. Open to children between five and eleven years old, this one-to-two-week day camp gives them opportunities to develop new friendships, learn about diabetes and participate in fun activities in a non-clinical atmosphere. During the school year, these children are often the only ones in their school with type 1 diabetes mellitus which can make them feel isolated or different from their peers. At camp, all the children test their blood glucoses regularly and take insulin prior to eating making it a unique, equalizing experience for these young campers.
The camp is staffed by medical personnel from Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, local school nurses, as well as by volunteer counselors. Many of the counselors are former campers and also have Type I diabetes. Jennifer Osipoff, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist at Stony Brook Children’s, has been attending camp for over ten years. Dr. Osipoff reports “I love going to camp. Not only is it fun to see many of my patients outside of the office setting, it is amazing to see the children acquire new skills that will help them with the daily management of their diabetes. Camp provides the supportive environment where children will feel empowered to give their insulin injection or test their blood glucose on their own for the first time. The friendships that I have seen form not only between the campers but between the campers and the counselors last long beyond the camp session.”
A typical day includes a session of kid-friendly diabetes education, sports and games, special activities such as visiting the animals at the petting farm, arts and crafts, and tractor rides. Each week the kids are encouraged to share “five things that bug them and five things they love about having diabetes” an activity that helps them realize that other kids share the same ups and downs about the disease.
During the diabetes education portion, kids learn how to test their blood sugar levels, self-administer injections, rotate insulin pump sites, and recognize and deal with symptoms of high and low blood sugar. Even lunchtime becomes a valuable teaching experience about the importance of good nutrition.
The camp also gives parents opportunities to bond. Parents meet during a mandatory pre-camp orientation session, and see each other throughout the week during camper drop-off and pick off. The presence of Stony Brook Children’s medical providers and the small ratio of campers to nurses allows the parents to feel confident that their children will receive excellent medical care while they are at camp.
To find out more about the Robert K. Sweeney Summer Fun Days Camp, including dates and fee information, click here.