Though school starts way before Labor Day in many parts of the country it does not in places like Minnesota and Wisconsin. So what a treat it was to visit Camp Needlepoint the last couple days of August with my wife Elizabeth south of Hudson, WI along the St. Croix River. Similar to our visit earlier in the summer at Camp Freedom in Pennsylvania, we had the opportunity to meet with campers, camp staff, other supporters and donors. We experienced “a day in the life” of a camper.
Highlights for me included learning how to put a tent up from a group that had recently returned from an overnight campout.
And sharing a lunch in the dining hall of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches followed by a camp sing along and awards ceremony at the flagpole. Children were recognized from particular cabins for their achievements in managing their own diabetes care.
I loved this visit, as I do with all programmatic trips to the field because I am able to talk with staff, hear impact stories first hand and take the pulse of the organization. I come back from these trips with a lot on my mind — thinking much about where do we need to focus our energy in the future? Where are the unmet needs? How can I better help our staff do their job well?
But most of all, I love visiting with those living with this harsh disease, learning from them what it means to be a person living with diabetes.
At Camp Needlepoint, I heard from several campers who shared over and over again with the leadership team how much the opportunity to come to camp meant to them.
One 16-year-old girl shared, “When I started coming to Camp Needlepoint many years ago, it was the first time I didn’t feel like a freak. I felt normal and accepted just as I was for the first time.”
One 10-year-old boy told us, “Thanks for camp. I love it here and feel so at home!”
One 17-year-old girl, a counselor in training who has spent every summer at the camp since she was first diagnosed at age 8, “Coming to camp is the best part of my summer. I know it sounds weird to say this but Camp Needlepoint really changed my life. It really did.”
I heard lots of stories like this over and over. I even had the chance to speak with a girl who told me about the discrimination she faced as an elementary school student, newly diagnosed with the disease in small town. The school principal told her mother that as a student with diabetes she could not attend the school. They didn’t feel up to the challenge of taking care of her. This student eventually found a place in a private school that treated her fairly, but it wasn’t until she first came to Camp Needlepoint that she felt less alone. She met other kids for the first time who faced similar challenges.
Summer camp is at the heart of what the American Diabetes Association does best. We are empowering the next generation of leaders, supporters and champions to stop diabetes. I will continue to think of the kids I met this summer at camp for the rest of the year and look forward to visiting even more summer camps in 2016.
It’s not too soon to think about sending your child to diabetes camp next year. Learn about the camps in your state by clicking here.