Where Diabetes and Wilderness Meet
Children and teens throughout the country are familiar with the traditions of summer camp. For some kids, cabins and counselors are just a part of a routine summer vacation. But what if you were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a young child and have never had the opportunity to spend time away from your parents?
Juvenile diabetes can be a very stressful diagnosis for kids and their families. Some children or teens can feel isolated and depressed, dealing with the daily duress of medications and insulin shots. This is where Camp Hodia steps in.
Founded in 1978 by registered nurse Don Scott, Camp Hodia was created out of a desire for kids to connect with other kids who are also diabetic. Scott, a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, envisioned a camp that encouraged kids to live full and productive lives while also recapturing part of their lost childhood. Nestled beneath the rugged Sawtooths, Camp Hodia has evolved to include a younger kids and teen camp, a winter ski camp and off-season retreats. The camps are fully staffed with a team of doctors, nurses and counselors and are filled with activities like arts and crafts, horseback riding, swimming, picnics and hiking. However, unlike most summer youth camps, health and diabetes management is the first and foremost focus.
Most counselors might agree that food can be the source of contention among campers, but the staff at Camp Hodia keeps their menus diabetes-friendly, using the opportunity to teach kids about healthy habits. However, just because their diets are restrictive doesn’t mean that they can’t splurge every now and then. After all, summer camps and treats go hand in hand and campers at Camp Hodia can also enjoy typical summer camp treats like ice cream and cookies—something that is factored into their diabetes management plan.
Among the many staff members is Richard Christensen, MD, an endocrinologist in Boise. Back in 1994, Christensen’s relationships with his newly diagnosed patients usually involved seeing kids at their very sickest, generally a time that was stressful and traumatic for the entire family. However, it was in this very clinical setting that he met a pediatric nurse, Scott, who spoke passionately about his juvenile diabetes camp. According to Scott, the camp offered a little respite from hospitals and treatments, nurturing a positive experience outside of the medical setting.
“One day (Don) asked me to come check out their diabetes camp, ” Christensen said. “I said, ‘I’d be happy to do that,’ but it was up in the Sawtooths, so I planned on just coming up for the weekend.”
Christensen didn’t know then that this little weekend trip would be the catalyst for a decades-long commitment.
“I just showed up there on a Friday afternoon, and just happened to arrive with the closing ceremony and dance. It was so much fun and heartening. I just became hooked!”
Most of Christensen’s previous experience with his patients involved a more regimented relationship. For the first time, Christensen was able to see these kids out of a medical setting, enjoying a summer camp as any other American teenager would. Christensen’s role far exceeds just his profession. He participates in all camping events, is on the board for Camp Hodia and directs the Wilderness camp, a backpacking trip for teens.
“The Wilderness camp gives these older kids greater confidence and independence to do things that their peers do.”
Scott, unfortunately, was not able to see how Camp Hodia has evolved. In 2011, he was tragically killed in a mountain climbing accident. But due to Scott’s passion and commitment, Camp Hodia remains resolute in providing this important and positive experience for Idaho’s diabetic kids, regardless of their ability to pay.
Most people do not realize the toll that diabetes can take on the entire family. Medical treatments and costs are expensive and relentless. An opportunity for a child with diabetes to have freedom over their disease gives them a sense of confidence and purpose and also allows their family to take a break from the disease’s negative effects.
“There have been many times over the years where I have seen the value this experience brings to the kids and their parents. Many of these kids have never been away from their parents, especially overnight,” Christensen says. “It is as much a growing experience for the parents as it is for the kids.”
For more information on sponsorship, volunteer opportunities or donations, please contact Lisa Gier, executive director, Idaho Diabetes Youth Programs at 208.891.1023 or visit Hodia.org.