Editor's note: this is part one of a multipart series. Other parts of this story will be printed in the next several days and will focus on the campers and their experiences.
Horseback riding, canoeing, wall climbing, crafts, swimming, a two story slide, archery, riflery, ropes course, a zip line, repelling, nature hikes, sports...and diabetes. One just naturally follows the other at Iowa's Camp for children with diabetes known as Camp Hertko Hollow located just north of Boone.
The campers, all Iowa youths between the ages of 6 and 18, are also exposed to additional educational sessions - using games and visual aids with a healthy dose of fun - to help them learn about managing their diabetes I.
"Parents are very appreciative of the opportunity for their child to attend summer camp and have an enjoyable experience while learning life long skills to manage diabetes," said Vivian Murray, camp director since 1970.
During two week-long sessions, campers experience the four goals of the camp: recreation, regulation, education and fun.
Learning is just par for the course at Camp Hertko Hollow thanks to new knowledge and good role models among staff (who are also diabetic), many times children will give themselves their first insulin injection, try a new injection site, or change their own insulin pump at the camp, said Murray.
With such accomplishments, come pride, self-confidence and ownership of their diabetes.
Last summer's camp staff included 10 physicians, 13 nurses, four dietitians, four pharmacists, eight pharmacy students from Drake University, 27 Iowa State University dietetic interns, three nursing students, and 39 counselors, most who have diabetes themselves.
"All of these persons volunteered one to two weeks in order to help youth with diabetes learn about this chronic disease," said Murray.
Another major healing benefit of the camp is the camaraderie gained when a child with diabetes meets other children who also have the disease.
At camp, the tasks of checking blood sugars, taking insulin, and counting carbs are just part of the daily routine and kids feel normal kids - as opposed to always being in the minority. It is not uncommon or impossible for a child to be the only one in a small school with diabetes.
At Camp Hertko Hollow, these campers are one of many diabetics, including the staff.
IS TURNED AWAY
Overall, a record total 337 campers attended Camp Hertko Hollow's 39th summer and 88 percent needed financial assistance with the entire camp fee of $650 per week, Murray said.
"No child is turned away because of inability to pay the camp fee," said Murray. "We are constantly fundraising to sponsor children."
For instance, Lions Clubs are a big contributor. Chapters from Adel, Boone, Woodward and Waukee have made contributions and are listed in the Spring 2007 Newsletter on the Web site www.CampHertkoHollow.
Operating as Camp Hertko Hollow, Inc., the camp's goal is to have every Iowa child with diabetes attend the camp no matter how dire their family's finances. Each year the camp along the Des Moines River meets that goal, serving Boone County residents as well as campers from all parts of Iowa and western Illinois each year.
Families are encouraged to ask about financial assistance options and "camperships" are readily available, thanks to a myriad of service organizations, foundations and individuals who donate money to sponsor campers.
The camp is also able to save money by having a staff comprised of all volunteers, in addition to donated supplies from pharmaceutical, diabetes device companies and food stores.
Camp Hertko Hollow, Inc., accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA) and a member of the Diabetes Education and Camping Association (DECA), is run by an independent Iowa corporation. It is a 501(c)3 not for profit corporation, so all donations are tax deductible. It is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors and all of the physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dietitians, counselors and health field students donate their time and expertise at camp sessions. The camp does not receive any funds from governmental agencies, although Camp Hertko Hollow can receive donations through the United Way Donor Choice program.
General donations can be made or earmarked for specific campers, said Murray.
For more information, call toll-free 888-437-8652 or go to the website www.CampHertkoHollow.com. Donations are tax deductible.
TEACHING THE TEACHERS
It isn't just young diabetics who need to learn, and last October Camp Hertko Hollow hosted its first international Diabetes Education and Camping Association (DECA) weekend to train coaches, bus drivers, school staff, camp staff, day care providers, parents and others who need to provide a safe environment for kids with diabetes.
"Any adult who works with children should have knowledge about diabetes to provide a safe environment for kids with diabetes," said Murray who is on the DECA Board of Directors.
The association covers 160 diabetes camps in the U.S. plus another 160 worldwide, she said and the event also included a free Diabetes 101 seminar, which was supported by a grant from The Wellmark Foundation.
"We have a yearly conference to network with other camp professionals and have in-depth discussions and presentations that are important in running quality programs," she said.
It was at one of those planning meetings last year when they discussed the need to reach out into the community and provide needed diabetes education to other camps and school personnel, said Murray.
And not a moment too soon.
"There are some horror stories about kids with diabetes attending camps without trained personnel," she said.
Programs like this seminar are vital to school personnel, said Murray, and one more teaching tool for them.
Another innovation, Family Camp Weekend will be held April 21 and 22 (rescheduled due to the winter storm on February 24).
A Family Camp Weekend encourages the entire family to learn about diabetes I and includes children with diabetes as young as one to two years old, and as old as 16.
Next summer's camps are scheduled for June 24 through 30 for kindergarten through fifth grade, plus mini-camps for half week sessions for ages six through seven, and July 1 through for grades six through twelve. The deadline for registration is May 30.
Although most of the campers have type 1 diabetes, this past summer there were eight campers with type 2, which is gaining momentum on America's youth.
"You've probably heard the news that diabetes is on the increase," said Murray. "So we will continue to serve both type 1 and type 2 at Camp Hertko Hollow."
"Any publicity and public support we can get for Camp Hertko Hollow and the efforts we are making in trying to educate children with diabetes in leading a healthy life style is appreciated," said Ann Wolf, executive director. "Everyone benefits when individuals with chronic illnesses such as diabetes make a better effort to control their disease," she said.
Part 2 will appear in Friday's Boone News-Republican.