Morgan Tobin has a lot of memories from her times at Camp Douwanna. Now the St. John's native is helping create new ones for youth who faced similar health challenge she did, growing up with type 1 diabetes.
"I was the only person I knew who had type 1 and I always felt a little bit different from all my friends," said Tobin, who is now the director responsible for three Camp Douwannas in the Atlantic provinces. "So when I was able to come to camp and meet people who knew what I was going through and knew what it meant to check your blood sugar and know what a low meant or what a high blood sugar meant, it was reassuring to have friends around who just got it."
Camp Douwanna is a Diabetes Canada initiative for youth ages eight to 15 that dates back to the 1950s. Today, the nine summer camps and 10 family camp programs reach over 1,900 children and youth across the country with type 1 diabetes. The annual weeklong D-Camp in Newfoundland and Labrador has been held at various locations since the first in 1964, but has consistently used the Lacrock Camp and Conference Centre on Salmonier Line since 2014.
The camp offers all the summer fun activities one might expect, including swimming, archery, camp fires and canoeing. This year's camp took place last week with 39 campers and six leadership development participants. The latter group includes youth ages 15 to 17 who have shown an interest in one day becoming camp counsellors.
Tobin herself became a camp counsellor after attending D-Camps in her youth. Beyond offering an avenue for children and youth to get together in the summer and have fun, it also helps instill in them the confidence to independently manage type 1 diabetes.
"Type 1 diabetes especially can be a pretty isolating disease for most young people that are diagnosed with it," she told The Compass. "Most people that are diagnosed with type 1 when they are younger, they're actually the only child in their school that has type 1. So they're able to come here and meet campers who are going through the same issues that they might be and who are able to chat about it and connect on the same level with them."
The camp is equipped with a full medical team to assist those who may have never handled their own insulin injection or a site change for their insulin pump, but are willing to try. Learning to manage blood sugars is very important for youth with type 1 diabetes, as failing to do so can lead to side effects down the road. Stations are also staffed near activity locations in the event a camper needs to immediately boost their blood-sugar levels.
"We just try to make sure that they stay safe, because anyone with type 1 can live a long and happy life – just as long as anybody else," Tobin said.
As a former camper now leading the way for three Camp Douwannas, Tobin is proud to have a role in helping out youth with type 1 diabetes.
"I think it's always important that I can give back what I experienced growing up," she said. "Camp is a very important part of my life, and it's an important part of so many people's lives. It just means a lot to me that these kids can get the same experience and have a traditional summer camp experience, because summer camp is such an important part of growing up."