Diabetes is life-changing. So are these camps for kids with diabetes. UNTIL 2002, RHONDA MCDAVID KNEW LITTLE ABOUT DIABETES AND NOTHING ABOUT LIONS. But then her son, Matthew, introduced her to both. Now she’s a Lion and executive director of Camp Seale Harris, a Lions-supported diabetes camp, serving more than 600 diabetic children each summer in Alabama, one of the states hardest hit by the disease. At age 4, Matthew McDavid, now 18, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and at age 5, he begged to go to summer camp. Through his doctor, his mom found Camp Seale Harris, and inadvertently, Lions. Some camps are Lions-owned like Lions Camp Merrick in Nanjemoy, Maryland, but many more camps like Camp Seale Harris count on Lions for support. An estimated 220 diabetes camps serve 22,000 to 25,000 campers in the U.S., says Indiana Lion Terry Ackley, executive director of the Diabetes Education and Camping Association. There are also 22 diabetes camps in Canada and possibly 500 to 600 camps worldwide serving 40,000 to 50,000 children with diabetes. McDavid, at Camp Seale Harris, didn’t just send her son to camp. She went with him, first as a volunteer. She watched firsthand as Lions bestowed kindness sweeter than pecan pie on the children who wake up every day with diabetes. She saw Lions sweat behind the stoves on those late summer days in the South, making sure the campers got nutritious meals—a key to keeping diabetes in check. And she met children—many of whom would have never made it to camp without the Lions who financially and physically helped them get there. MCDAVID MADE CAMP FRIENDS LION DORA: Dora Hartsock, a Lion from Gulf Shores who 20 years ago lost her 8-year-old daughter, Bridget, to diabetes complications, then turned around and poured her heart into fighting the disease and helping the children who have it. For one week every summer, she goes to the camp in Mobile, and among other things, teaches line dancing to get kids moving because exercise is important. And if she didn’t, there’d be a mutiny. LION GUS: Past District Governor Gordon Gary from Mobile who runs the camp kitchen serving healthy meals to more than 100 hungry campers every day because good nutrition is crucial to keeping blood sugar in check. And because Lion Gus’s scrambled eggs are the best way to start the day after you’ve checked your blood sugar. LION ANNE: Past District Governor Anne Shumaker, a Centre Lion and a retired teacher who, before the schools had nurses, kept her desk stocked with tiny packages of orange juice, candy and sugar cubes for the students with diabetes. She now helps families fill out camp paperwork and leads her club’s support in getting kids to camp— all the way down to buying swimsuits for them and gas for parents. “These Lions are making a profound difference in the lives of children with diabetes,” says McDavid. THE FUTURE IS THEIRS. THE OPPORTUNITY IS OURS. AND THOSE ARE JUST A FEW LIONS. Among the 1.4 million Lions now vowing to fight this epidemic is Lion Matt Knauff, 19, of Grantsville, Maryland, who says Lions have been part of his life since he could walk. Unfortunately, so has diabetes. Knauff, 19, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 3, attended his first diabetes camp at Lions Camp Merrick when he was 6. His tuition was paid for by his hometown Grantsville Lions, and although he got homesick, he went back the next year, and for many after. For 14 years he has been going back to camp. Now Knauff is a camp counselor and just a few days after his 18th birthday, he also became a Lion like his dad and his grandparents. “I love it,” he says of Lions Camp Merrick. “It gives children a chance to not be the weird kid on the block. At camp, you’re not different anymore.” “If you ask a child what they like about diabetes camp, they’ll say, ‘I’m not alone.’” McDavid says, “If you ask a child what they like about diabetes camp, they’ll say ‘I’m not alone, and I found out I can still do things.’ “Camp helps kids become independent with their care. It helps families access support.” “What’s most difficult about diabetes is that you wake up every day, and you still have it. You can’t take a day off from it,” adds McDavid. “And you will continue to have it for the rest of your life.” 1 IN 3 U.S. CHILDREN WILL HAVE DIABETES IN THEIR LIFETIME
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