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I’d just brought my then 10-year-old daughter home from her fourth summer of diabetes camp, and I was thrilled to get back to our nightly routine.

So, you can imagine why I understood when, just before we opened her chapter book to read it together and then share our traditional bedtime “story of a day in my life,” she burst into tears.

“I. Miss. Our. Talks,” she said, crying so hard she could barely get the words out.

“It’s okay, honey,” I said, stroking her hair. “I’m here now. You’re home. All is well. You don’t need to miss our talks anymore.”

“Not you, mom,” she sobbed. “My camp friends! I miss my talks with them!”

Rather than hurt, I was thrilled.

Diabetes camp has been a powerful treatment tool since shortly after insulin was invented; one that brings kids — and now adults as well — a feeling of inclusiveness and even better, a community that sticks, often supporting them their entire lives.

“I still talk to my camp friends more than 60 years later,” Paul Madden, who grew up with type 1 diabetes (T1D), has served as a camp director and is now on the board of the Diabetes Education & Camping Association (DECA) told DiabetesMine. “It’s just that powerful.”

Here’s the thing: The COVID-19 pandemic, in almost all cases, put that in-person community “magic,” that thing many say is the most powerful part of D-camp, on hold.

Now, with camps looking to be fully operational and in-person again, the need may be higher than ever to get folks who long loved camp back and those who have yet to experience it there.

The pandemic may have even amped up the need for the camp experience, experts say.

The seclusion and separation that so many felt during the height of the pandemic may have been even harder on people with T1D and their families, particularly children and parents.

“Our kids are [struggling] more frequently since the pandemic,” Madden said. “You see it in the general public, in schools and in other settings.”

T1D can add another level to that, he said.

“With all the pent-up anxieties that come with T1D even without a pandemic, well, it’s just so much more with one. We are worried. Our kids need this more than ever,” he said.

Julia Blanchette is a PhD, registered nurse, diabetes care and education specialist (DCES) and also person with diabetes herself who grew up as a camper at the Clara Barton Camp for Girls With Diabetes in Massachusetts. Now, in her professional role, she advocates for camp constantly, and is a dedicated supporter of Camp Ho Mita Koda in Ohio.

Camp is, at its core, the chance for people growing up with T1D to get past the “intense isolation” that a diagnosis can make a person feel, Blanchette told DiabetesMine.

“That’s always been an issue,” she said, pointing out that many children with T1D are the only ones in their school or classroom, or on their sports team.

“So, there’s already that higher risk of feeling isolated,” she said. “Now, they’ve been remote all that time, so they feel even more isolated. There’s a heightened risk to (the mental health) of all kids from that. It’s deeper for kids with T1D.”

At the same time, parents have become more used to being around their children with T1D almost constantly, leading in many cases to more anxiety and even fear when they are separated.

“Parents may need camp now more than ever as well as the kids,” Madden said. “When you’re too tight (together) too often, it’s not always good. Kids need their wings, and parents do too.”

When you have a child challenged with a chronic illness, Madden said, “parents are naturally going to hover even more. Sometimes, I think all this is harder on our parents than on our kids.”

That may have led, particularly for families who had a child diagnosed in the past 2 years when most camps did not meet in person, to parents who may struggle with letting their child go — even to a well-staffed diabetes camp.

Which would mean, Madden pointed out, missing out on something he feels made him the strong, healthy person with T1D he has been for more than 60 years now.

“I don’t think I’d be so confident,” he said, imagining a life without diabetes camp. “As great a job as my parents did, camp helped shape me. I don’t know that I’d be as independent and dogmatic as I am without camp.”

Kids now, he said, “have been robbed of that unique peer-to-peer support they get there. We have to get them back.”

Kids with T1D aren’t the only ones who lost out by missing in-person camp over the past 18 months.

Adults with T1D felt great loss too, many say.

“At the end of the day, [diabetes camp] is all about being surrounded by people who ‘just know,’” said Phyllis Kaplan, a former child diabetes camper with T1D who was instrumental in creating New Jersey-based Camp Nejeda’s adult diabetes camp program.

“Like at lunchtime. You might be just ‘having lunch,’ but around you, there are pumps and CGMs going off, carbs being counted, all that familiar yet usually hidden activity happening all around you. There’s something truly magical about it, for adults too,” she said.

For both kids and grown-ups, diabetes camps provide the same camaraderie and fun activities as any summer camp — such as swimming, sports and crafts — but with an added focus on learning about diabetes management, nutrition, independence, and self-discipline from trained clinicians and volunteers.

Seeing how adults with T1D have felt intensified isolation over the past year and a half as well, Kaplan said she sees adult diabetes camp as necessary going forward.

“People really need it. And now I’m not sure they know they do,” she said.

Blanchette points to another population that missed out: The counselors, staff, and adult volunteers at diabetes camps.

“Working at or volunteering at a diabetes camp gives you some of the best education and training out there,” she said.

“I worked at camp right after I got my (nursing degree) and it was so valuable. I learned so much, and you just don’t get that kind of training anywhere else,” she said.

All of this means a dual challenge: Making sure all those who loved camp in the past find their way back, and that all those who may have not embraced camp yet because of the pandemic do so now.

It also means things like scholarship programs need to be at the ready, to expand access as much as possible.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has long been a supporter of diabetes camps, both helping run and fund camps and helping those who cannot afford it get there.

ADA program director Michelle Foster told DiabetesMine that camp offers kids the chance to “have a normal camp experience, just like any other child,” and that in that, they “find their tribe.”

She worries about the seclusion kids with T1D have felt through the pandemic, “particularly those in a small town.”

She believes the power of being among others who do as you do and feel as you feel is invaluable. “No pun intended, but they really do understand the highs and lows of life with diabetes,” she said.

The ADA, along with many other organizations, launched virtual camp programs through this time, something she said may not have exactly emulated the in-person experience, but still reached folks who needed support.

“We found that some families who had been hesitant to send their child, even before the pandemic, took part in this,” she said of their so-called “Imagine Camps.”

While that can never fully replace in-person camps, she said she believes it has led to a rise in those interested in getting their child to a physical camp.

“We saw a big uptick in families connecting with others on social media,” she said. “That could be key to getting (kids) to camp. They’ll trust another family who has had the experience.”

The ADA, she said, will be launching a scholarship program soon, recognizing that camp decision time — usually early winter — is nearly here.

Madden said that no person should be turned away from diabetes camp for financial reasons, and that while DECA is “fighting hard” to get more scholarship funding, much more may be needed since camps across the board, like most charities, were challenged in fundraising through the pandemic as well.

In September 2021, pharma giant Eli Lilly and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust announced that they were committing nearly $1 million over the next 3 years to a new Type 1 Diabetes Camps Initiative.

While initial applications closed at the end of October, Sarah Noel, Lilly’s director of U.S. diabetes advocacy and professional relations, told DiabetesMine that they are also giving grants directly to camps that don’t have financial support to boost assistance.

They’ve asked camps to focus on the underserved communities, to “make sure all kids who need camp can go,” Noel said.

That’s because kids with diabetes from historically marginalized groups can feel even more isolated than others who just went through the pandemic, she said.

“A lot of times kids show up at diabetes camp and they may be the only People of Color there. They want to see people like them. It brings a sense of belonging.”

And while Lilly had been discussing the new camp program before the pandemic, now is a vital time for it to launch, she noted.

“Kids have been so isolated. Anxiety and a sense of isolation can be so challenging for them. This summer will be a great chance for them to get their cup filled anew, and to bring them a sense of empowerment they get from diabetes camp,” she said.

Most camps begin to post schedules in fall for the coming summer. Some, like the popular Barton camp based in Massachusetts, also have winter programs to consider.

First step? Explore the camp options near you, but also cast a wide net, as some kids do travel a great distance for a certain camp they like. Find out if the camp has open houses or information nights. If they do not, ask to be connected to other families who have sent children for years in the past so you can ask your pressing questions and gain confidence.

Once you find the camp you are interested in, Madden suggests reaching out to discuss directly with them not only the program, but also prices and any possible scholarship opportunities they may have.

Most have some kind of program to help make camp doable for all, he said.

And then, commit, because those in the know say the payback for having the courage to send a child — or your grown self — to camp pays off forever.

Two weeks ago, my daughter, who is now 30, got word that one of her camp friends was struggling. Their entire former cabin group got on a Zoom call to help that friend through her struggle. That’s because in diabetes camp, “once a cabin, always a cabin,” my daughter says.

“That’s camp, mom,” my daughter told me. “Decades later, we’re all still having those talks.”

This D-mom does not feel one bit left out.