More Than S’mores: The Empowering Effect of Diabetes Camp

It felt like I was the only one with type 1 – at school, on the softball field, in my youth group, at home. As a fourth grader, my new diagnosis was coupled with lots of questions from well-meaning adults and puzzled faces from my peers. I remember the countless times when my explanation of diabetes was met by my friends’ pity, worry, or fear. Twenty-something years later, I know I’m far from the only one who has felt that way.

My pediatric endocrinologist suggested I attend a diabetes camp the summer after I was diagnosed. Although I had nearly a year of good ole diabetes management under my belt, I remember feeling reluctant to spend a week with strangers in the mountains. I grew up in Albuquerque, and the closest diabetes camp was an hour away. I could have never known that my experience would be life-changing.

This week away from home was freeing. There was a delightfully refreshing sense of “normalcy” as I found myself in a crowd of kids with type 1. I realized early in the week that not only did all of the other campers have diabetes – some of the super cool counselors did as well. We spent the week sharing our common struggles – going low in the middle of something extra fun, feeling cranky when blood sugars are high, getting bruises from injection sites, counting carbs at a restaurant, carrying around giant bags with all of our necessary supplies, having callused fingers, navigating the tricky logistics of sleepovers, and fielding the ever-present question of, “Are you sure you should be eating that?”

I remember leaving camp feeling empowered. There was a newfound motivation behind taking care of myself, knowing that my friends were headed back home to do the same. I came to realize that not only had I experienced a week of independence, but my loving parents also had a much needed break from acting like my pancreas. There was a lot packed into one week outside the city. Besides pulling off a horribly choreographed dance number for the talent show, we took risks together, stepped outside of comfort zones, and embraced the reality of diabetes. I will, in no way, paint this as the happily ever after story of perfect diabetes management post-camp; but I do know that I wanted to share this experience with as many people as possible.

I had the privilege of working at Outpost Summer Camps, a traditional day camp in San Diego, for 9 wonderful summers. As a counselor and a director, I never expected to belong to something in this way. My eyes were opened to the magic of summer camp and the growth that is intentionally fostered in this setting. I found a home in the program and what it has to offer both staff and campers. Outpost is owned and operated by my brother-in-law and my sister, so I had just enough encouragement and optimism (and a healthy dose of insanity) to think that I could head down a similar path.

My own experience at diabetes camp and my summers at Outpost led me to envision a brand new adventure. I am starting a camp for kids with type 1 called Camp Kinneloa. This is the first overnight camp in the San Diego area for campers with diabetes, and we are thrilled to open enrollment for our session from June 24th-29th at the Cuyamaca Retreat Center. We are currently looking for campers ages 8-14 to enjoy a week of swimming, hiking, scavenger hunts, skits, campfires, arts & crafts, group competitions, stargazing, silly songs, and a talent show that is sure to knock your socks off. Our volunteer applications are open as well, and we are looking for counselors and medical staff who are familiar with Type 1. If this is something that speaks to you or someone you know, we would love to have you on board this summer! Feel free to apply and find more information at or email us at


Note from TCOYD: For a list of type 1 camps in other parts of the U.S., please visit the ADA website here.

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    Although I don’t have Type 1, I can say that because I have juvenile onset rheumatoid arthritis that I started going to JA camp and it was literally LIFE ALTERING!!!

    It’s difficult to explain just what it did for me but being around my own tribe was healing especially against my tendencies to be non compliant and rebellious towards anything related to my disease… I was also a very mistrustful towards adults due to traumas and I was hiding in my shell. Camp changed me very quickly and even transitioned to becoming a Jr counselor quickly.

    I attended JA camp for many years and had many very special moments like having campers come to me with there personal struggles or the little ones asking for me to hold them on my lap when they got injections and for the kids, I came out of my tight shell and even sang silky camp songs in front of a crowd lol

    Just the look of awe when those of us camp counselors with JA introduced ourselves the first day was always so rewarding right away and I understand that feeling because I had it too!

    So much laughter, knowing understanding that doesn’t need words, those with more years of disease mentoring the newly diagnosed… it’s just endless..

    Even now, I miss camp and don’t go because it’s just to hard on my diseases I now have more but my camp photo albums are a beautiful reminder and always make me smile in appreciation of the reflections and changes in myself and others

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