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Maureen Pekosh No Power? No Matter, Camp Kids Keep Their Cool

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Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 3:29 pm

Sometimes I love that many Glenview parks are peaceful oases where stretches of green can be enjoyed at will. I think of Rugen Park as a find because it often has an available tennis court, something not always easily come by in Glenview. But this past week, Rugen Park was anything but calm.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) needed a new home for one of its camps. Camp Confidence had always been held close to the Des Plaines River and the potential for flooding caused much consternation as plans were made for the week of camp. When the regular site was scheduled for construction, the decision went from being a "Plan B" to a priority for ADA staff.

Camp Confidence is held for children from 4 to 9 years of age who have diabetes. It is a chance for them to meet other children who face the same challenges and choices daily because of also living with diabetes. It is also a chance for their families to get a much needed break from diabetes as well. Diabetes requires 24/7 monitoring of blood sugars, counting of carbohydrates, and delivering the required doses of insulin. Because blood sugars move constantly and there is no one "right" blood sugar, because it is not always possible to measure the exact amount of carbohydrates one is eating, and because it is even more challenging to try to factor in how active someone will be after eating, diabetes is a huge challenge for many parents to help their young children manage. The ADA's diabetes camps give children and parents the ability to live a more normal life, if only for a short while.

To make this all possible, the ADA needs space for roughly 80 people at a reasonable price. They need ample room outside and inside and some of the outside space has to be shady. They need camp to be centrally located so parents can get there relatively easily from anywhere in northern Illinois or Indiana. They need lots of volunteers to come help the children participate in activities and manage their diabetes so they can afford to offer camp.

Sue Apsey, associate director-Youth Initiatives for the ADA, led the search. She looked at a school, a church, and a park. It helped that the head of the Glenview Park District is Chuck Balling who has been a long time supporter of the ADA. In the end, even though the inside space was tight, the ADA selected Rugen Park.

ADA staff held their breath hoping for good weather. Monday started out with a steady rain. Staff improvised. They moved their parent education portion of camp. Parents went to Panera Bread in Glenview to here the scheduled speaker so the Rugen fieldhouse could be used for camper education and crafts. Once the rain let up a bit they expanded to a donated tent which allowed them to stay dry and get some fresh air. As the afternoon turned steamy, the firemen came by. Rain seemed like it had been ages ago when the firemen made it rain from their hose to cool the kids off.

Camp Confidence had previously always involved swimming. This year kids still got wet, thanks to the firemen, water balloons and games like drip, drip, drop (duck, duck, goose with a sponge). No one seemed to miss the pool too much.

When Tuesday's storms left Rugen like most of Glenview, without power, ADA staff knew immediately they needed a generator to keep the insulin cold. They quickly procured one. Then campers were given hats with individual lights in the brim. These hats turned into keepsakes as campers signed each other's hats on the last day of camp.

There was lots of informal basketball games played on the court at Rugen. There were games of whiffle ball, Frisbee, tag, a scavenger hunt, a puppet performance, and building and launching rockets with help from the Chicago Children's Museum. Campers had fun and gained some confidence in their ability to safely be active even though they have diabetes. They made new friends because for one week everyone was like them, pricking their fingers, reading nutrition labels, and sometimes feeling not quite right.

The weather could have been better. The fieldhouse could have been a little bigger. The power could have been on for the whole week. In the end, none of it really made that much of a difference. The 48 children who attended camp confidence and the older kids who were counselors all had fun. The ADA has done this enough to know the winning formula no matter where they hold their camps. They bring children who just want to be like other kids who don't have diabetes, and they give them that opportunity. They bet volunteers who understand diabetes and can truly help these kids have fun and be safe for the week. They educate campers through games and friendly competitions. They empower them by helping them become more self-sufficient in managing their diabetes. They remind them that they are not alone living with diabetes.

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