Happy 15th anniversary! to YMCA Camp Duncan and the American Diabetes Association
Coordination and collaboration are the name of the game when it comes to ensuring that each and every child experiences a memorable summer camp experience - especially when those children have special medical needs.
That teamwork has been especially vital during the past 15 years as YMCA Camp Duncan and American Diabetes Association staff have worked together to prepare for the hundreds of young campers attending the ADA's Triangle D on-site resident camping program at YMCA Camp Duncan in Ingleside.
"It's a fabulous partnership which has grown stronger over the years," says Kim Kiser, senior vice president of camping for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago and executive director of Camp Duncan, hosting the ADA Triangle D program. "Sharing the weeklong experience with children with diabetes does require some special planning when it comes to articulating needs, medical supervision and more detailed meal planning. But we do whatever it takes to ensure that every camper can enjoy the weeklong experience, camaraderie and gain a sense of independence."
Canoeing, sailing, surf bikes, paddle boats and other waterfront activities tend to lead the list of preferred activities, but Kiser reports newer attractions such as blobbing - jumping from a platform onto the 35-foot long and eight-foot tall air cushion to launch others into the lake - are quickly becoming new favorites.
"We provide the traditional camping experience and expertise, but our wonderful ADA partners provide the medical expertise, on-site medical management and more," Kiser says. "It's a true hands-on partnership, with ADA medical staff volunteers working moment-to-moment and side-by-side. There's lots of sharing and collaboration. It's an unbeatable combination."
Pam Milan, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator who has been sharing her time and expertise with campers as an ADA volunteer for years, couldn't agree more.
"Just as diabetes care has evolved over the last 15 years, so have camp menus," Milan explains. "Food is served family-style and no longer all sugar-free. With so many children using newer insulin pumps, we're now more concerned with matching carbohydrates and insulin needs. The menus have definitely become more liberal."
Other changes, she explains include the addition of more salad bar options and a focus on healthy fruits and vegetables.
"Each child makes menu selections on individual menu cards," Milan explains. "Carbohydrates are counted and children learn how to best ration their 60 carbs per meal."
Milan, who says she always has peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to accommodate picky eaters, celebrates when only 15 of the 130 campers per meal select the PBJ.
"ADA volunteers and Chicago dietitians first set up the camp menus many years ago," she explains. "But over the years we've worked together to make the changes our campers need. Just 12 years ago, our first camper with Celiac disease arrived, requiring a gluten-free diet. Peanut and gluten allergies are more common in those with autoimmune diseases like diabetes."
Camp food now includes many gluten-free options and staff dietitians work to prepare other gluten-free entrees for five to eight campers now arriving at camp each session.
"Because cross-contamination is an issue, we use separate food preparation areas and utensils, and parents supply many of the staples in advance from our gluten-free wish list," she says. "Because birthday celebrations are a big deal for our campers, we've begun stocking some premium ice creams which are gluten-free so everyone can join in the celebration. Our goal is to make camp about camp and not just medical needs."
Popular entrees include chicken nuggets and hamburgers, with ice cream sandwiches and make-your-own ice cream sundaes topping the dessert options. Milan says one-half cup of the ice cream with two tablespoons of chocolate topping may tally 15 grams, but be well worth the carbohydrate "expense" when it comes to letting kids be kids.
"Some people may be shocked at what we serve," Milan admits. "But with careful planning, carbohydrate counting and portion control, kid-friendly favorites aren't necessarily off-limits any more!"