Kids with diabetes find confidence, camaraderie at camp

NORTH WEBSTER, Ind. – Battling diabetes is a daily and lifelong challenge that can be especially hard for children.

One week out of the year, there’s a place they can go where they can just be kids — the American Diabetes Association’s Camp John Warvel .

It’s a beautiful spot in the woods, where kids do all the things you’d expect at summer camp.

“I like the water activities,” said camper NaTondjra Barton. “My favorite one was probably tubing, because I’ve never heard of tubing and I’d never been on a boat before.”

But at this camp, the kids learn also lessons that could save their lives.

“They learn how to test their sugars by themselves. They learn how to change their site for their pump.  They learn a lot of independence and self-management,” Jennifer Pferrer, executive director of the American Diabetes Association .

All of the kids at Camp John Warvel are diabetic. For many, it’s their first time injecting themselves and their first time seeing other kids do it.

“The children are, a lot of times they’re the only child in their school that’s living with Type 1 diabetes. They’re the only child that they know that has diabetes,” Pferrer said. “And when you have 200 other kids who come together who are just like them, it really helps them build their confidence.”

“It kind of helps me because I know I’m not the only one out there in the world (with diabetes),” said Caleb O’Laughlin, an RTV6-sponsored camper.

“I didn’t really know anyone else who was diabetic until I came here,” Barton said. “It helps me a lot because they understand what I’m going through better than my mom or anybody does.”

“You feel like you can be yourself here and don’t have to worry about if your (sugar is) low,” said Tameera House, another RTV6-sponsored camper. “People don’t understand what you’re talking about anywhere else but here.”

These campers — as young as 7 years old — have 24-hour medical supervision. The camp is not cheap at about $1,000 per child for the week. 

Of the 200 or so kids who come to camp each year, more than half of them are there because of corporate sponsors.

“Without the support from people at channel 6 and other sponsors, there are a lot of kids who couldn’t come to camp,” Pferrer said. “Living with diabetes is very expensive, and for children who are living with diabetes to have the opportunity to come to a summer camp that is also very expensive, you know, sometimes it just doesn’t fit in the budget.”

Regardless of the cost, the benefits of attending the camp are priceless.

“You basically be yourself and don’t let diabetes rule you,” said RTV6-sponsored camper John Mann. “It makes a great impact because it lets me know that I’m not the only diabetic in the world and I’m not the only one who faces these kind of problems.”

This is the 58th year for Camp John Warvel, which hosts kids from all over Indiana.

Registration for next year’s camp begins in February.

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