Beyond the Mainstream

“When the camp was first founded 75 years ago, shortly after insulin was discovered, it was essential because these children were virtually invalids,” states Dickinson. “Before the discovery of insulin, type I diabetes in children was fatal, and they could not be taken to mainstream camps. Now you would not know these kids have this serious illness.”

For a camp that would have a diabetic child attending, Dickinson advises, “Be aware of the situation, have someone on staff able to recognize the signs of trouble, create a tolerant environment by making sure the other kids in his cabin know this child has diabetes, and to be aware that the child will have to test his blood sugar, take shots and in other ways manage his illness, but that in no other way does diabetes make this child different from any other.”

Although it may be easier now to mainstream children with diabetes, the disease is still serious and can have life threatening emergencies or long-term complications, especially if not managed properly.

Consequently, one of the specialties of this specialized camp is for children to grow in their knowledge and care of the condition they carry.

Dickinson adds, “In an informal way we try to provide diabetes education and to motivate them to manage their disease effectively.”

Most of the time this valuable practice leads to improved self-care and independence. As a result of a couple of years at Camp Ho Mita Koda’s program, some parents have gained enough confidence for their child to attend other camps, although the networking with kids who are going through like issues is the one aspect that other camps may not provide. Having to take shots several times a day, eating regular snacks, and avoiding certain popular kid foods are just a few of the ways they may feel different.

To cross paths with peers who are dealing with similar life situations is a central characteristic of this camp’s culture.

A child with the relatively rare type 1 diabetes may feel different in normal everyday life, so getting to spend a couple weeks each summer with other kids and counselors who have the illness helps them realize that they are not alone.

“When they come to camp here they can leave behind their medical alert bracelet because everyone has diabetes, so it’s less of an issue,” Dickinson points out.

Therefore it goes both ways. Some kids develop independence because of the camp and go on to mainstream programs, while others really like the idea of being with kids who have diabetes and they return year after year.

Most campers come from northeastern Ohio resulting from physician referrals, or from parent to parent contacts, while others attending from all over the world may have discovered the camp online.

No commercial recruiting is done as they operate as a non-profit organization. Therefore, the primary support of the camp comes from private donations allowing the fees to be subsidized and significantly reduced by up to 30 percent through an extensive Campership Program.

Looking back over her 14-year tenure, Dickinson has seen the residence camp grow from 121 attendees in 1991 to over 276 last summer.

Dickinson gives her camp director a lot of credit for the recent growth. Although he is a seasonal employee, Richard Humphreys’ experience seems unlimited. He is a professional storyteller, a nature expert, an experienced program director, and he happens to also have diabetes. In his non-camping months, he owns a countryside nature facility and guides children’s school groups.

His energy and excitement has reenergized the camp. “The kids go back to their doctor and talk about what fun they had at camp, so the doctor is more likely to refer more kids — it kind of exploded,” says Dickinson.

Humphreys was diagnosed with diabetes 48 years ago at age 15. He believes in living a full life and will demonstrate how he prevailed over diabetes with a 380-mile walk from Camp Ho Mita Koda to Lancaster, Pa.

The trek is scheduled to take place following an annual camp fundraiser and adult party called “Backpack Bivouac” in August of 2005. Humphreys has taken on this endeavor independent of his camp position, though he will be asking for sponsorships to raise funds for a new camp tennis court. His progress will be charted on the camp’s Web site.


Camp Ho Mita Koda is ambitious about opportunities to overcome obstacles. For instance, the newly developed ropes course with climbing wall is used to show the children that they can rise above their individual circumstances.

When asked about obstacles she faces as the executive director, Dickinson did not hesitate to refer to the facilities that date back to the 1930s.

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