The DNA Of Camp

I’m a camp girl, have been all of my life. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was born this way. That my parents opted to skip a Niagara Falls honeymoon in favor of a camping trip to a state park (due in part to Dad’s leaving for basic training just a few weeks following their marriage) spoke volumes about the family I was born into.

And there isn’t a summer I’ve not been grateful for it. From Brownie day camps to Girl Scout week camps, summers spent at leadership, FHA and church camps, and winters spent dreaming of those two glorious July weeks of 4H camp, it seems a little crazy to me that the first two years of my married life were completely camp-free.

When my brother suggested that I work at his diabetes camp (while he was still a camper) the summer we moved back to central Ohio, I didn’t think twice before filling out the application. There’s something in my DNA that believes in the power of camp to change every person’s life.

What I’ve been thinking about this last week are those people in the periphery of our camp passion -- those people who watch us go off to camp, pore over camp photos with us when we return, listen to our (endless, at times) camp stories, help us piece together scrapbooks of our week at camp, help us earn the money we need for camp and essentially support our camp-going habits -- without actually understanding our camp obsessions.

People like my husband, my sister and my non-camping friends fall into this category, and I often think they see us as a band of crazy camp people who’d benefit from some type of camp detox program, but they’re still good sports about our 24/7 camp chatter.

Along with my friend Joanna, whose camp tenure has been one year longer than my own, I volunteered to call parents last week to follow up with camp paperwork and answer any lingering camp questions they might have.

This was a struggle for me -- I hate talking on the phone, but for the advancement of camp, I was willing to try. I know how short-tempered I get when dealing with telemarketers, and I felt no more important than a glorified volunteer hawking vacation plans or insurance opportunities.

Boy, was I wrong. From the first parent I talked with -- the parent of two boys who had been excited to attend camp since the day they left camp last year -- my phone fear was put to rest.

Call after call, parent after parent, they each understood the importance of camp to their child and were, in all cases, one doctor’s visit away from finalizing paperwork. A few had minor questions, such as whether or not raincoats were acceptable in place of umbrellas (yes, they are) or if campers would be receiving an all-camp photo (we hope so).

Most of the conversations were general camp chit-chat, but one mom in particular started me thinking again about those people who support camp people because they see the importance of it to our lives despite not fully comprehending our passion.

Her daughter had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes for less than a year, and she had several valid concerns about the camp program. From meals to blood sugar monitoring to injections to activities, we talked about the structure of the camp day (and night, which requires campers to check blood sugars at midnight and treat accordingly to avoid potentially dangerous low blood sugar levels in the morning), medical interventions, the range of activities and level of support each camper gets from all four staffs: medical, program, counseling and dietary.

By the time we wrapped up, I felt confident that my explanations had given a holistic view of the actuality of a camping week, but I felt uncertain about if I had really answered any of her questions.

I imagined myself in her place -- an overwhelmed mom with a teenager diagnosed with a chronic, life-altering disease, now in the process of sending away that daughter to a virtual group of strangers for an entire week. I figured I’d made things worse, not better. I figured I’d screwed up with my information overload and that she was mentally plotting how to politely request refund of her deposit.

I figured wrong. Everything I’d explained made sense, put her at ease. Where she’d been nervous about camp, she felt knowledgeable enough to support her daughter -- who had been the one to initiate her trip to camp after talking with a diabetic friend at school who’s been with us for years.

She finally felt ready to embrace the opportunity of camp the way her daughter had. Before we ended our conversation, she asked two final favors: could I make sure that her daughter had such a great time at camp she’d want to do this every summer? And could I guarantee her daughter’s week at camp would change her life for the better?

I think she asked the right person.

Beth Morrow is a freelance author, educator and member of the Central Ohio Diabetes Association’s Youth Committee and Camp Leadership teams. She has served for 16 years as Senior Week program director for Camp Hamwi, a residential, age-based, week-long residential camp for diabetic youth. Reach her via e-mail at: