'Fun, sun and family': Kids with type 1 diabetes find community at camp

At first glance it might look like any other camp, but Camp Red Fox in Canoe Cove, P.E.I., is anything but ordinary. It's designed for kids with type 1 diabetes.

Camp Red Fox allows kids to be independent, learn to manage their diabetes and make new friends

Kids are encouraged to have fun and make new friends at Camp Red Fox in Canoe Cove. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

At first glance it might look like any other camp, but Camp Red Fox in Canoe Cove, P.E.I., is anything but ordinary. It's designed for kids with type 1 diabetes.

It combines fun activities, like swimming and games, with lessons on counting carbs, checking blood sugar and maintaining a balance between food, insulin and activity.

"It's just an opportunity for them to be all together at one place," said camp director Rheal Williams.

"A lot of these kids grow up in isolation in a sense. They're the only person in their community that may have diabetes. It's really tough for them to relate and find some common ground I guess, and so camp, this one week, gives them the opportunity to learn from each other, build a bigger community."

'I'm getting to go to camp'

Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the pancreas does not produce any insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body to control the level of sugar in your blood. 

Without insulin, glucose builds up in your blood instead of being used for energy.

Camp Red Fox offer a real camping experience while accommodating the needs of campers. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, approximately 33,000 children between the ages of five and 19 are living with type 1 diabetes in Canada.

Samuel Drake, is among the camp's veterans. The ten-year-old was diagnosed two years ago, and is at Red Fox for the third consecutive year.

"I am always waiting for that one day when I'm getting to go to camp," Drake shared. "There's a bunch of people who have diabetes and understand what it's like and I have lots of friends."

'Here to have fun'

Dr. Peggy Bethune, the camp's medical director, said camp is a place to learn self-confidence and to be with other kids with diabetes. It's also an opportunity for mom and dad to take a break.

"I think one of the challenges is to use the opportunity to teach kids more about diabetes self-management, but also to make that the diabetes management doesn't take over the camp experience and doesn't take too much time or isn't too interfering," she said.

Children learn how to test their blood glucose levels, count carbs and prime a needle for injection. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

"Because they're all really here to have fun, and make friends and participate in the activities, so it's really, the camp is more about the programming than anything else, and we need to keep that in mind, so we try to do it as efficiently as we can which is quite structured."

Parents pay between $275 to $500 for their children to attend the week-long camp, with Diabetes Canada subsidizing most of the cost.

'Build self-esteem and new skills'

Children make new friends with others their own age who face the same challenges that they do every day.

"In their communities there's stigma," said Williams.

The camp teaches children to manage their diabetes. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

"People don't understand what diabetes really means, and so limitations are sometimes placed upon these children. Here we don't. We remove all those limitations."

"When you're here with that group of people you form a bond and that sticks for a long time, and that's what I hope our campers take away the most."