by Erin Turnham
Registration for 2023 Camp Seale Harris is open as of November 1, 2022! Registration is open for Summer Camps (Day Camps ages 5-15 and Overnight Camps ages 6-18), Family Camps (ages 0-18), and Teen Leadership Forum (grades 9-12). You can view the dates and locations for 2023 programs here. Register your child now at https://csh.campbrainregistration.com/.
The 2022 Camp Seale Harris Junior Camp was Grasshopper’s third overnight summer camp. It would have been his fourth since he started going in 2019, but of course Covid derailed those plans in 2021. We have been going to Camp Seale Harris events since soon after his diagnosis at 21 months old in 2013.
The family weekend camps held at Camp ASCCA in Jackson’s Gap, Alabama helped us become familiar with the facilities. Those weekends together with other Camp Seale Harris family events gave us plenty of time to get to know the people in charge, and to ask lots of questions before Grasshopper was even eligible to go to camp at age 6. By that time our family was as ready as we could be! Even with all that preparation, our first check-in was daunting! I was nervous to leave him, he was ready to stay there and play, and I had heard how long the check-in process was.
To help out other families, I’m sharing what happens during check-in at Camp Seale Harris’ Jackson’s Gap location. Full disclosure, I’m both a parent and a board member. I still stand in the same line as everyone else at check in! This year I took photos as Grasshopper and I went through each station so you can have a first hand look.
I should say that the preparation began well before check-in, of course. Camp Seale Harris staff sent a detailed packing list, a specific check-in window of time in which to arrive so that arrivals were staggered, and plenty of reminders prior to the first day of camp.
For our family, the drive was reasonable. An hour and a half through beautiful countryside was definitely worthwhile especially when the destination is one of our favorite places. This year I spoke to a mom who drove 11 hours from West Virginia to deliver her child to Camp Seale Harris! We truly have a treasure here in Alabama. On the way into camp there were helpful signs that let us know we were still on the right path. Some simply pointed the way forward, while others echoed the mood in my car. Grasshopper was bouncing in his seat and asked more than once, “Are we there yet?”
Finally, the answer was YES! Grasshopper waits for this week all year long. Honestly so do I. Taking photos by the Camp ASCCA and Camp Seale Harris signs is a cherished tradition! Once we passed this sign, camp itself was just minutes away.
Luggage Drop Off
Camp counselors under a tent directed us to pull off into a circular drive for luggage drop off. We were guided by more helpful counselors and counselors-in-training (CIT) to leave luggage with them. They told us Grasshopper’s cabin number for the week, and they tagged Grasshopper’s luggage with his name and cabin number. They reminded us to carry his week’s worth of diabetes supplies in hand plus his blood sugar record from the previous week and any letters or care packages.
We found a place to park and we walked a short way to the Administrative Check-In tent. There we gave our name and received a slip of paper. The paper had our check in number, arrival time, and listed the stations we would visit during the check in process.
Waiting In Line
A UAB School of Optometry student came by with a paper and some questions for us. When was his last visit to our eye doctor? (Last summer.) And a question for Grasshopper, did he know how often he as a person with type 1 diabetes should go see an eye doctor? (Every year.)
While we waited, we chatted with other parents and kids in line. Ok, ok… I chatted with other parents and kids in line. Some were old friends, others friends I hadn’t met yet as my extrovert blog partner, Alese, says. Any gathering at Camp Seale Harris feels to me like a family reunion. Even the folks I don’t know have been through similar difficulties in this type 1 life and we share a bond.
Kids swarmed a picnic table crewed by Lion’s Club volunteers and counselors. There, each camper got a round leather tag and lanyard to write their name on and decorate however they wished. It is another beloved camp tradition. Campers who have since become counselors attach stacks of these “rounders” from previous years of their camp visits to their backpacks. They are badges of honor.
John Latimer, the camp director, got the line moving and soon called our check-in number. He collected Grasshopper’s phone that he uses as a Dexcom receiver, and made sure we had turned off the Share feature. Camp is meant to be a break for both the children at camp as well as the caregivers who leave them at camp. Mr. Mister and I wouldn’t see Grasshopper’s Dexcom graph for a week. It is unsettling to be without that data when I rely on it minute by minute to keep my boy safe, but from my experience in previous years, it is also a relief to take a break from the constant mental work of being an assistant pancreas.
Administrative Check In
Camp Registrar Sarah Latimer and volunteers confirmed Grasshopper’s name, gave us a folder of information, and gave us a preview of the stations we would visit.
Blood Sugar Check
Nursing students pricked Grasshopper’s finger and gave him the new meter he would use at camp that week. Even though some campers have continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) like Dexcom, Libre, and Guardian, camp staff make a concerted effort to keep things equal. All campers, whether they wear a CGM or not, have to prick and test their blood sugar before meals.
Grasshopper got his temperature checked by Kristyn Jenkins, a nursing student from Southern Union Community College. No fever!
Head Lice Assessment
Next was a head lice check behind the black curtain by Nurse Valerie Hill and nursing students. All clear!
Camper Eye Screening
UAB School of Optometry students took each camper through an eye chart screening as well as a brief exam in a darkened room.
Dietician Check In
Registered Dietician Amanda Fieder and a dietary student chatted with Grasshopper. He doesn’t have any dietary restrictions, allergies, or celiac but for campers who do, alternatives are offered at meals.
Pump/CGM Check In
At the pump and CGM table, Grasshopper’s supplies were checked by a pharmacy student, Sheila Benton, RN CDCES, and Terri Brennan, RN CDCES. They all have experience with pumps and CGMs. Campers who use insulin via multiple daily injections (MDI) don’t need to bring supplies because insulin (almost all kinds) and syringes are generously donated to Camp Seale Harris. Campers who use pumps and or CGMs must bring supplies like sites, cartridges, filling syringes, sensors, and transmitters. Volunteers checked to make sure campers had enough of these supplies to last through the week. They also made sure that the supplies were labeled with the camper’s name.
Medication Check In
Pharm D Clinical Professor at Auburn University Dr. Heather Whitley and volunteers chatted with Grasshopper at the Medication Check In Station. For campers who use medications in addition to insulin, their medications were put into organizers specific to them and sorted by day so that staff and campers could easily track medication regimens.
Physician Check In
Two tables with two physicians each reviewed camper’s blood sugar logs from the previous week. Former camper and current UAB medical student volunteer Mackenzie Porten reviewed Grasshopper’s numbers. Sometimes small changes were made to insulin dosages to accommodate the increased physical activity at camp.
On the way to Grasshopper’s cabin, I spied some of the technology that helps staff track camper’s blood sugar! Thanks to generous donors, Camp Seale Harris has its own portable WIFI system. This virtual private network allows camp wide network coverage so that medical staff can track camper blood sugars 24/7. For the campers who use a CGM, this is an invaluable technology.
Camp Director John Latimer tells campers and caregivers alike that whoever takes the kid to camp gets to make up the bed if they wish. This mama took full advantage! Counselors had already brought Grasshopper’s belongings to his cabin, so once we got there we picked them up outside the door, walked in, and the boy chose a bunk. I made up his bed. Current rules are for caregivers to provide all linens, bedding and towels, that campers will need for the week. I put a set of twin sheets on the bunk mattress, rolled out his sleeping bag, and got Grogu settled as The Pillow. Grasshopper was ready for me to leave!
He managed to tape tag me with some yellow washi tape when he gave me a goodbye hug. It is a little prank my dad used to pull on me and it made me giggle to see Grasshopper eager to carry on the game. It was a successful check in and a great start to his week at camp!
Camp Seale Harris truly is one of the best things to happen for my entire family. One week out of the year Grasshopper is in a group where having type 1 diabetes is the norm instead of the exception. I know he is well cared for, and I can truly refresh my mind. We are able to spend some focused one on one time with our daughter. I am able to reconnect with my husband. At the end of the week we all return to T1D life as a stronger team. Camp Seale Harris not only serves children with diabetes, it strengthens families.