Up to the Mountain Top…
Summer camp for many kids is a mountain top experience. It is the week or two during the year where they leave the daily routine of life behind and travel to the mountain for fun, friendships, and life experience. Camp De Los Niños is a week long camp in Boulder Creek, California for kids 7-17 who have diabetes. The camp is deeply nestled in the redwood trees of California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. The redwood trees are the tallest living things in the world. The vast majority of kids at camp have type 1 diabetes as it usually affects the younger population.
Type 1 diabetes attacks the islet cells in the pancreas so that they no longer secrete insulin. Insulin must be administered externally via multiple daily injections using syringes or through an insulin pump. At this point in time there is no known cure for diabetes. Significant advancements have been made in treating the symptoms but insulin must still be given externally.
So how to summer camp play into this? For all kids, camp is a place of connection, education, and experience. Camp broadens kids as they get to do things that are different from home. How many kids get to do archery at home? At home campers are often times the only kid in their school who has diabetes. Camp is a place where there are the norm and not the exception.
Some campers are newly diagnosed and benefit from the educational content from the medical staff specifically designed in a kid friendly format. Other campers benefit from being stretched in experiences outside of their normal world with having staff alongside to coach them through. For parents, it’s a place of safety for their child knowing that they’ll be surrounded with people who understand and can care for their child.
For staff, it’s a chance for us to share a bit of our youth as well as a bit of our “wisdom” with everyone at camp. You’re not a parent, nor really just a friend. You’re a mentor and an example that can really impact a kid’s life going forward. Take a moment and think… Who were the influential people when you were growing up? Chances are, some were parents, teachers and other usual suspects. I’m betting though, you’ve taken something significant from someone outside those usually close to you that made you a better person. I know for me camp was a lasting experience as a kid and as an adult.
I was a cabin counselor! My cabin had 11 boys ranging from 14 to 16 years old. Each cabin has 2 counselors as well as a nurse. The 14 of us and made up “Cabin 7”. Cabin counselors focus on ensuring the group stays together, leading activities, being positive role models, and investing in the kids. It’s a job that runs 23 hours a day but one that’s extremely personally rewarding for me. As to the contraption on the right… They call it the “mole hole”. It’s like a water slide without the water. As a staff person, the kids all want you to do the activities too!
What does a typical day at camp look like?
Equip and Empower
Every kid comes to camp with a different story. The focus of camp is equipping the campers with the knowledge of how to manage diabetes yet instilling the importance of being a kid. Blood sugar management, carbohydrate counting, and insulin delivery are core fundamentals stressed around meal time. The rest of camp then is all about being a kid: swimming, archery, hiking, outdoor cooking, singing songs, and everyone’s favorite – campfire.
This is my 11th year at camp as “Camper Dan”. We have a rule on campus that the kids cannot be alone. I was “busted” for breaking that rule as another staff confused me for a camper. Needless to say many years later the nickname still sticks.
Each year, different things speak to me about camp. We had the opportunity to hear from Kendall Simmons, an NFL player who also has type 1 diabetes. After his talk, a 9-year-old kid opened up in front of 150 people about being bullied in school because he was different for having diabetes. There wasn’t a dry eye in the entire audience.
This is the first year I’ve seen a first year camper transition all the way to becoming a staff member. Talk about feeling old. 🙂 That being said, the values of camp are deeply important to me. Investing in and equipping the generation behind us to prosper is what this camp is (and all camps are) about. As staff, we get the privilege of sharing our time, insight, and our lives with the campers.
The first night of camp we got to see the Perseid meteor shower as we slept under open skies without tents. At closing campfire one of the songs we sang is called “Shooting Star”. This year the importance of people resonated with me. Sometimes people are only in your life a moment and others much longer. Each interaction we have can make us better people.
As we journey through life people inspire us, challenge us, and enable us to grow. For kids, camp is one of those places to learn about life and grow through the week. I’ve been truly blessed to see a number of kids grow up through camp becoming more empowered to live life they want to live.
A word of thanks…
Atlassian’s hands on approach to philanthropy is one of the key reasons I was interested in working here. We are unique in our commitment in making the world, our world, a better place to be. All Atlassians are encouraged to use Foundation Leave to spend 5 working days to make the local community a better place to be with an approved organization. How do you know you found the right place? Find your greatest joy and match it with one of the world’s needs.
Also, philanthropy can be a great place to learn new skills too. I didn’t think I’d be great with kids when I first started working at camp. Turns out that I had a knack for it and still doing it some 11 years later. 🙂 You never know unless you try.