A Letter to Newly Diagnosed Parents from a Veteran Camp Director

You found the courage to click on this!  Wow, your heart rate and thoughts must be in high gear.    The mere idea of camp means that someone other than you would be providing care, critical care for your child. Whew… that’s a lot to think about. 

Camp Kudzu is a place and community of people that you never wanted to belong to...  I can’t change that. Similarly, I can’t change the diagnosis of a chronic illness, type 1 diabetes. What I can change is your child’s ability to grasp the knowledge of living a healthy life with this disease and improve their ability to manage it, guide your family through the milestones of self-efficacy, and be there when pardon the bluntness of the statement– it’s a diabetes sucks day. 

Let’s not think about Camp Kudzu as a consolation prize.  Let’s think about it as a vital part of developing habits and behaviors so that your child learns the habits to be a healthy, adult, AND a way to keep your heart rate in check.  Let me explain- 

Campers will tell you it’s their favorite week of the year, 

We aren’t like a trip to the endo’s office, but we have endocrinologists, RNs, physician assistants, and dieticians there.  We aren’t a classroom of lectures and chalkboard diagrams, but we have education woven into camp with impromptu learnings during activities, mealtime, and casual conversations.   

We are about CAN and not cannot. 

Camp Kudzu is a place where there’s nothing unusual about having type 1 diabetes. There is no need to explain blood sugar testing, finger pricks, insulin injections, ketones, “lows,” boluses, or carb counting. Everyone here understands! 

WE ARE a community of learning and growth for campers living with type 1 diabetes.   The encouragement campers get from their peers and staff members do more for their independence than any formal attempts to do so. 

Know that your child may be ready for camp before YOU are ready for them to go to camp.  We can partner together to make camp work for everyone.  Think about attending one of our day programs or family camps or log onto one of our online programs offered through Camp KudZoom to get to know us better.  I like to think about getting to know us part as “Dating Camp Kudzu”.  My staff and I are available to share our policies and procedures of our programs.  We will explain our dietary plan for picky eaters… we will detail our overnight monitor plans… we will share our staff orientation guidelines. 

We have not done our job if CK is the only camp your child can attend  We hope your camper comes back year after year for community and the diabetes battery charge but can do other things like sports, Girl Scout Camplock-ins with the youth group, spend the night parties, or band trips. 

I am often asked to speak to non-camp people about camp.  I have traveled all over the world during my career and spoken to a variety of groups, organizations, and people about the virtues of having a camp experience.   There has been more than one occasion when I was sure I was speaking to a group of crickets (very camp-like, I know) as I tried to explain C-A-M-P to the group… it isn’t a familiar idea to everyone for a variety of reasons.   Occasionally, I am asked why I don’t come right out a share that camp is a FUN thing to do.   (I truly shy away from using that word, FUN).  I typically answer that question like this- Chuck E Cheese is fun… well if you still have quarters left… but camp is both a giant outdoor classroom and a catalyst for child development. 

Camp is an experience that supports a camper’s life journey.  It is a process of safe risk-taking and new skill development that is very very very different from the indoor classroom- school.  Critical thinking takes place, friendships are developed, independence is fostered, self-confidence is boosted, and… well, I could go on and on.  We use outcome measurements to examine the influence Camp Kudzu has on these life skills of our campers. 

Camp Kudzu partners with Clemson University to conduct outcomes-based research and fully understand such impacts and the differences Kudzu programming makes in the lives of campers.  It takes a lot of moxie as an organization to take a deep look internally-  at our practices and procedures in our programs towards diabetes health management. As a result of their children participating in Camp Kudzu’s programs, parents reported a statistically significant growth in their children’s’ communication skills, responsibility, the competence of disease management, and acceptance of the disease. Campers reported increased knowledge of disease management, self-confidence, self-awareness, social skills, and normalization of diagnosis. Measured youth outcomes gathered in recent years suggest that Camp Kudzu is a setting that facilitates exceptional levels of positive socio-emotional growth and skill development. According to campers, they are “better and different” because of attending Camp Kudzu. (The Diabetes Camp Experience for Children with T1D: Positive Youth Outcomes and Benefits – Camp Kudzu and Clemson University- Summer 2019 Dr. Barry Garst, Ph.D., and Dr. Ryan Gagnon, Ph.D.) 

Being at camp creates a lifetime of memories. In our youth we are sponges, never knowing at the time, the events and experiences that will help to shape who we are as an adult. Camp Kudzu is a treasure trove of those opportunities.  Full disclosure, summer camp was a powerful influence on my life. 

Camp Kudzu is a magical place where campers have the opportunity to try new things, meet a diverse and interesting group of campers and staff, improve their own ability to manage their health, and develop a sense of independence and maturity under the watchful eyes of a dedicated and talented group of staff.   Camp Kudzu is like no other camp on earth. 

The Camp Kudzu Community has active volunteers that grew up with us.  Some 21 years ago, the parents of these very same staff were wringing their hands just like you about making the decision of sending their child to camp.  Those pioneers are now cabin counselors, activity staff, and leadership team staff.  Those pioneers are also nurses, doctors, electricians, accountants, teachers, personal trainers, television producers, nonprofit executives, electricians, small business owners, and parents. 

I want to thank you, in advance, for considering sharing your camper with us at Camp Kudzu.  There is no greater compliment about the work that we do than having your camper be a part of our program. 

I will see you and your camper, very soon.

-Kat Shreve  

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