One group of children met in one corner to play foosball. Another gathered around a table to paint suncatchers.
The biggest difference between this common area and so many others was the centerpieces. The round tables had Sharps Containers for used insulin needles, and calculators and notepads for counting carbohydrates.
Thirty-nine diabetic children are learning how to manage their condition in a summer program called Camp Juliet under the watchful eye of counselors trained to carefully monitor their blood sugar levels.
It’s the first camp experience for many of the children, said Director Debra Whitley. Many can’t go to a typical summer camp because counselors don’t know how to care for them.
The children at Camp Juliet range in age from 7 to 17 and are insulin-dependent. Meals and snacks are carefully planned, and nutrition information is prominently displayed so that they can make sure they take the correct doses of insulin.
Between mealtimes, the children swim, sing karaoke, put on skits, do archery, play sports, and make arts and crafts.
“This is a place where they can come, have fun, learn, and their parents don’t have to worry about them,” Whitley said.
“It’s so fun, you just don’t want to leave,” said 9-year-old Emma Dusseau, who was diagnosed with diabetes at 23 months and is attending the camp for the third year.
Though she knows she’s not the only child in the world dealing with diabetes, Emma doesn’t seem quite so alone at Camp Juliet.
“I feel like everybody’s the same as me, so I don’t have to worry because they understand,” she said.
Counselor Geri Perano, 22, said she remembers feeling very alone as a child. She was diagnosed at 9. She once saw an advertisement for glucose meters at CVS and thought it was targeted only at her.
“When I got here it was like, ‘Oh, OK. There’s a ton of other people,’ ” she said.
She started attending Camp Juliet when she was 11. Through it, she learned how to administer her own insulin shots, what an insulin pump was, how to use it (she still uses one) and how she enjoys helping others learn to manage their diabetes.
Perano said Camp Juliet helped her dispel a lot of “doctor’s orders” that she had been doing at home and showed her new ways to manage her condition.
“I didn’t know I could do anything beyond what they told me,” she said. “Then when I came here, I learned so much differently. I could do it myself. I could kind of be on the independent side,” she said.
That is the goal of the camp, said endocrinologist Ian Herskowitz.
“We want them to develop a positive outlook in dealing with diabetes,” Herskowitz said. “We want them to be able to be with other kids who have diabetes and realize they’re not alone in that respect, and then to be able to make choices that are good choices.”