In September 2020, Amelia Siewert was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (T1-D). She was 6-1/2 years old. In the first couple weeks after her diagnosis, the child asked her mother a heart-tugging question: “Mom, are there other kids like me?”
That winter Amelia’s mom, Amber Siewert, was browsing through a T1-D moms’ Facebook group and noticed that parents were discussing summer camps and what they did with themselves when bringing their children to a facility far from home.
“Parents were mentioning that they just stay in a hotel in the nearest town to the camp,” Amber said. “The thought that came to mind was, ‘Why can’t there be a camp for the T1-D child and parent to attend together? And I need to get my kiddo around other kids like her.’”
Amber reached out to Camp Hiawatha, along Deer River in the Northwoods of Minnesota, and by end of summer 2021 it had hosted T1-D Connections Camp, a weekend gathering of 10 youth and 10 adults that included boating, fishing, hiking, cookouts, campfires and time to relax and sing.
“The experience exceeded my expectation,” Amber Siewert said. “The goal of the camp was to bring children with T1-D together to ‘build connections’ so they can be around kids who are like them. So many major interactions, experiences and beautiful moments occurred, in those short few days, that were very impactful.”
One of those moments came when the Siewerts were driving to camp. “My daughter expressed how nervous she was,” Amber said. “And then Sunday, as we were walking to our car, she said to me, ‘Mom, I don’t get it. I was nervous to come, and now I’m sad to leave.’”
With diabetes comes a lot of technology. Alarms alert parents and children to blood sugar highs or lows. At the beginning of camp, Amber said, many kids mentioned how other kids at school looked at them when their alarms went off and how glad they were not to be the only one. Throughout the weekend they would giggle when their alarms all sounded at the same time.
During the camp, Amelia had not yet received an insulin pump, a device that monitors blood sugar and administers small doses of insulin. She asked fellow campers about their pumps and whether they hurt, which gave her and Amber new insights.
“From a parent’s perspective, it was humbling to hear and talk with parents who get it,” Amber said. “Discussing worries, tips, ideas, and expressing our own feelings, and the pure knowing that you’re not alone, that others are experiencing and [having] similar thoughts and feelings too.”
Amber recalled a moment when, sitting on the beach with other parents as their children played in the water, she felt she could “finally and truly relax and be at peace. It was as if I could take the armor off, the armor that a parent wears when they are managing their child’s diabetes and the feeling of always needing to be on and at the ready.”
Amber said that, though she knew camp would benefit the kids, she didn’t realize how much it would impact her and how much she needed this time.
“The staff at Camp Hiawatha truly added to our experience and were absolutely amazing,” Amber said. “There are no words to express how appreciative I am of that group. We are looking forward to a full week at camp this year. We are looking forward to seeing our friends from last year and excited to meet the new campers.”
This year at least 15 families with T1-D children signed up for a weeklong camp program, said Joel Abenth, executive director of Voyageurs Lutheran Ministry, which administers the camp.
T1-D Connections fulfills two objectives, Abenth said. One is to provide an experience for children under 10. Most summer programs for children with diabetes do not accept kids under age 10 because of the difference in health care (giving shots, etc.) for younger kids with diabetes. Another is to let families compare notes on the trials and tribulations of childhood diabetes.
“We want to make sure people have a safe space and the faith community to support them,” Abenth said. “We want them to get out into God’s great Northwoods and breathe a little bit and laugh. Our goals are that they be surrounded by creation and a nurturing faith community at the same time. So many in our world today don’t get that opportunity.”