With more than 20,000 children diagnosed with diabetes every year, the American Diabetes Association strives to provide immersive learning experiences through camp programs each year in 25 states, with 54 sessions that range from two to 12 days over the summer months.
ADA camps offer a traditional summer camp experience in a medically safe environment while fostering opportunities for youths ages 4 to 18 to develop basic diabetes self-management skills, forge sustainable relationships, overcome feelings of isolation, and gain self-confidence. On-site medical volunteers teach campers how to check their blood glucose, count carbohydrates, independently administer insulin, and develop a better understanding of their disease.
The camp program relies on more than 2,000 health professionals each year, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, social workers, certified diabetes educators, and nursing and dietetic students.
For many families, an ADA camp is the first time parents feel comfortable leaving their child under someone else’s care. For medical staff, the camps provide a unique opportunity to connect with patients in real-life settings while expanding their vocational competencies. Some physicians even close down their clinics to allow their staffs to work at camps and engage with their patients in an alternate setting.
Marla Solomon, RD, LDN, CDE, Co-Director of Camp Crossroads in Chicago, Illinois, has volunteered with the ADA as a registered dietician for the past 25 years. During that time, she has connected her practice with this enriching camp experience.
“Working alongside patients outside a clinical atmosphere, you’re able to witness children grow with their diabetes in a short week’s time, learning to self-manage through one-on-one consultations with health care professionals and peer-to-peer support from fellow campers,” said Solomon, who has also managed dietetic interns while volunteering at camp, creating resume-building opportunities for physicians of the future.
The professional benefits of volunteering at camp often bring new perspectives and a strong sense of community involvement, according to Januari Lewis, PharmD, RPh, a North Texas Community Leadership Board Member, camp volunteer, and registered store manager at Walgreens.
“Volunteering at Camp New Horizons North [Parker, Texas] opened my eyes to a side of patient care I don’t often get to see after my patients are released,” she said. “As a community pharmacist, I interact with parents of children who have been recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes or have developed type 2 diabetes. I spend time calming their fears about insulin injections and hypoglycemic episodes, and usually follow these consults with monthly check-ins to ensure my patients are well-prepared for day-to-day life with diabetes.
“At Camp New Horizons, however, the atmosphere is completely different,” Lewis continued. “I see how those efforts come to fruition. Gone are all the concerns of red tape and paperwork, and routine stress seems to melt away. Medical volunteers have the opportunity to educate campers on diabetes management and invest in not only their health care, but also in them personally, an experience often forfeited in today’s medical environment. But the icing on the cake is the kids themselves. Campers became proficient in finger-stick testing, calculating sliding scale injections, hypoglycemic control, and counting carbohydrates. The look of relief from parents who for that one week didn’t have to worry about their child while they were away was priceless. They hugged us, they cried, and after a week of laughing and learning, they left as friends.”
The ADA camp program would not be possible without the support of health professionals who donate countless hours and expertise to the 6,000-plus children in attendance. As the 2017 Health & Wellness Strategic Partner of camps regionally, Walgreens supports the crucial needs for day and residential camp operations in 10 states. Walgreens’ support of camps and these volunteers reaffirms their commitment to the ADA’s mission and to the overall health and wellness of the American public.
If you are a health professional interested in volunteering at a camp, please visit www.diabetes.org/campvolunteer.