Jeff Dietz is the founder of Camp Possibilities, a weeklong overnight summer camp in Darlington, Md., that helps children adjust to life with diseases such as diabetes or other diseases which require special needs.
Why do you believe that children with special needs benefit from participating in Camp Possibilities?
There’s a study, I’m not able to cite it off-hand however, that basically states that acceptance of one’s disease, whether that is diabetes or cancer or any other disease, generally take better care of themselves as they get older.
Do you think that it is important for Camp Opportunity to offer children the ability to participate in activity that they may not be able to under normal circumstances?
I think that’s important, that they’re able to participate in these activities.
First of all, they may not have the opportunity to do them, whether it’s because of various reasons that are barriers such as diabetes.
[Another reason is] not being around their parents, so they can develop some independence on their own. They also get to develop some independent diabetes management skills.
How do children learn about diabetes management at Camp Possibilities?
[Children learn] more just through individual moments on their own and through interactions with their peers in their cabins.
We also do a whole diabetes education [program].
What kind of moments have you had where you realized that your camp was successful in teaching children about diabetes management?
I remember a young girl smiling at me, in our dining hall after an event where we did an ice cream bar. It was late at night and we served various kinds of ice cream and she said “that was the first time I’ve had real ice cream, since I was diagnosed with diabetes.”
She had been diagnosed with diabetes for about a year, and her parents—who loved her—would always get her sugar-free things.
They thought they were doing what was right for her, however at camp, we teach that you can basically do whatever you want but we teach you how to live with diabetes.
That was a particular moment that stuck out to me.
How important do you think it is for children to learn how to manage diabetes with regular foods, as opposed to avoiding certain ones?
There’s no question about it—food choices and management.
Food Choices [are] in the sense that if you have diabetes or don’t have diabetes, it probably is not a good decision to have four Cokes in a day.
On the other hand, if you want to have your Coke and [consume it responsibly] you have to manage your daily intake of sugar.
With regards to your background and involvement with the camp, do you have any recommendations for parents who have children with diabetes or other diseases that affect everyday life?
That’s not really my area of expertise, so I can’t make really make one.
That’s a good question though; I’ve been around a lot of parents who have special needs—we all probably have—and I think the ones best adjusted and the most successful are the ones who might have attended camp and are educated.