Monday, June 26th, 2017

Campers with diabetes experience best lessons outside classroom

Camp Ho Mita Koda has the distinction of being the first and longest continuously operating camp in the world with its unique purpose of serving children with diabetes.
Just a few years after insulin was discovered in 1921, Dr. Henry John, a Cleveland Clinic physician who specialized in treating children with diabetes, and his wife Betty took six young children to their summer home in Newbury Township. There in rural Geauga County, Dr. John provided the youngsters with medical care while Mrs. John engaged the children in their first experiences of traditional summer camp activities. Not only did the children benefit from their two weeks’ camp experience, but also their parents, secure in the knowledge that their children were being taken care of while they had their first respite from those rigors. Thus, in 1929 Camp Ho Mita Koda, its translation from the Sioux language means “Welcome My Friend,” began. The principles of its initial mission continue to this day to teach children with Type I and Type 2 diabetes how to manage and monitor their health needs while they have fun at summer camp.
Situated on 75 woodland acres that includes a lake, Camp Ho Mita Koda exudes serenity, from the original Great Hall adorned with charming artwork created by Dr. John who also carved totem poles that dot the grounds, to the eight recently renovated cabins, each of which can accommodate eight campers and two counselors. Additions over the years include the Reinberger Bathhouse, Humphrey Dining Hall and a new medical dispensary. Summer camp activities range from arts and crafts to canoeing, gardening in the newly-established garden and an innovative Iron Chef competition as well as a steeplechase.
Two years ago, in order to provide more services to Northeast Ohio children with diabetes, Camp Ho Mita Koda merged with the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland under the leadership of Jacquie Dickinson, DAGC president and ceo since 2005, who in 1991 became the Camp’s first executive director. Dr. Doug Rogers serves as the medical director, overseeing a staff of licensed physicians and nurses who volunteer their services at the Camp that is accredited by the American Camp Association. Currently, Julie Hewitt is Camp manager, Susan Woodford, Camp director, and Matt Sebastian, Camp dietitian and nutrition educator.
They said that there are now more than 300 children every summer that include resident sessions, mini-camps and day sessions. These youngsters are of all ages, from tots to teenagers, whose common bond is having diabetes. One of the most engaging aspects of the camp experience, they said, is seeing an eight-year old camp “veteran” help an older first-time camper only recently diagnosed with diabetes.
“It’s a lively peer-to-peer interaction,” said Matt. “Education is a core part of camp for them to learn but informally.”
Diabetes, they said, “is the only disease that can be self-managed, and the youngsters can learn how to do this at camp. It takes discipline, patience, accountability and maturity.” All are lessons imbued at such young ages and will carry these children with diabetes beyond Camp Ho Mita Koda’s outdoor classroom to well-serve them when they return home to their families, to their schools and on into their futures.


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