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Building community: Kejimkujik National Park camp provides safe space for teens with Type 1 diabetes


Published on July 10, 2017

Erika Keating takes her blood-glucose reading before lunchtime.

©Aethne Hinchliffe

KEJIMKUJIK NATIONAL PARK - Just a few minutes walk up the hill from Keji Beach at Kejimkujik National Park, 33 teens are camping in the woods.

The group is part of Camp Morton, a camp for teens ages 13- to 14-years old, who have Type 1 diabetes. They arrived at Kejimkujik July 9 and head home July 14.

“It was kind of born out of the fact that we really wanted something specialized for teenagers living with Type 1 diabetes,” said Lara Abramson, manager for camps and youth programs with Diabetes Canada. 

The camp in Nova Scotia used to be for children aged seven to 14 years old, but since a lot of campers were attending, Abramson says it was possible to create a second camp for the older kids. That’s how Camp Morton was born.

Camp Lion Maxwell happens in August at the Camp Kadimah site in Barss Corner, N.S. and is for children ages seven to 12.  

Abramson says a primary reason for having a camp for teens living with diabetes is to remove isolation.

“For a lot of these kids, they’re the only kids in their school with Type 1 diabetes,” said Abramson. “They’re the only ones on their soccer team or basketball team or karate school or whatever it may be.”

When they step onto Camp Morton’s site, they’re suddenly part of a community.

Lara Abramson, Turner Lemire, Aaron Bussey, Alex Decoste and Erika Keating are at Camp Morton for the week.
Aethne Hinchliffe

Erika Keating, Turner Lemire, Aaron Bussey and Alex Decoste are all part of Camp Morton. Each also attended Camp Lion Maxwell when they were younger.  

“I like making all the friends that we make and (doing) all the fun activities that we do,” said 14-year-old Keating, who lives in Williamswood, N.S. when she’s not at camp.

Decoste, 14, is at Camp Morton for her second time, and spent six years at Camp Lion Maxwell. She says she likes being at camp because everyone is so positive and upbeat.

As the teens can attest, it’s not always easy living with Type 1 diabetes.

Camp Morton runs out of Kejimkujik National Park in Maitland Bridge, N.S. The camp is for teens who have Type 1 diabetes.
Aethne Hinchliffe

Keating says one of her challenges is when her friends want to go out and do something and she has to first check her blood, which holds her friends back.

Part of the way people with diabetes can lessen the challenges they encounter, says Decoste, is by educating people, including teaching them what low and high blood sugar might look like.  

Abramson became involved with camp because she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was six and began to attend camp when she was eight.

“I was a camper, I did the leadership program, I was a staff member for a long time, and then I was camp director for about five summers,” she said.

Now, Abramson is in her fourth summer as manager and works with between 25 and 30 other staff members. Some are program staff, acting as counsellors and instructors, while others are registered nurses and dieticians. There’s also an on-site physician.

“They all volunteer their time to come here,” said Abramson.

Busy week

While on site for the week, campers do a lot of swimming and canoeing. They also play all-camp games, such as capture-the-flag.

Sweet Talks are more formal but fun diabetes education sessions, says Abramson.

“They get two of those in the week.”

One is nutrition-based and the other is medical-based. The sessions are geared toward teenagers, for example, transitioning to high school or dealing with peer pressure.

Camp Morton campers line up to get lunch.

A program called Skills allows campers to choose one of four activities – silk-screening, cooking, geo-caching and canoeing. The teens will learn the skill they choose from scratch, attending daily sessions.

 

What Abramson has noticed in her years of working at camp are the bonds the teens form. In the beginning, there are lots of small groups of friends, and by the last day there is a group of 30 friends – a community.