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KID STUFF : EVERYTHING BUT THE S'MORES : At Camp Chinnock, Diabetics Find That Camaraderie Is the Real Treat

August 06, 1992|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

I don't know about you, but my memories of summer camp have nothing to do with glowing campfires or lanyards lovingly wrought under an azure sky. In fact, if all of my camp experiences were culled into a single image, it would look something like a giant M & M sandwiched between Rice Krispies bars the size of canoes.

Nowadays, of course, there are probably loads of summer camps that serve nothing but tofu dogs and organically grown vegetables. But, kids being kids, you can bet your last potholder most campers have a dozen or so candy bars stashed in the foot of their sleeping bags.

If your child has diabetes, this seemingly harmless side of summer camp is serious stuff. To keep their disease in check, most young diabetics must follow a strict regimen of diet, exercise and medication, and a midnight chocolate binge could cause a reaction far more serious than a simple tummy ache.

But that doesn't mean these youngsters have to miss out on the camp experience. Tucked away in the Angelus Oaks area of the San Bernardino Mountains is Camp Chinnock, a summer camp coordinated by the American Diabetes Assn., California Affiliate Inc. for children ages 7 to 16 with insulin-dependent diabetes. The last of four Camp Chinnock sessions (each is open to children in a different age group) runs Sunday through Aug. 16 for children ages 7 to 9. Pre-registration is required. (At press time, there were still some openings.)

Close supervision of each camper's diet and activity by medical personnel and specially trained counselors is one of the key differences between Camp Chinnock and your run-of-the-mill summer camp, said Joanie Johnston, ADA's coordinator of program services.

Serving the 100 campers at each session is a staff that includes endocrinologists or pediatricians specializing in diabetes, plus several resident physicians and registered nurses, Johnston said. The teen-age counselors, many of them diabetics themselves, are experienced in such things as how to give an insulin injection.

Under medical supervision, campers gather to test their own blood glucose levels and to administer their own injections several times during the day. For many, especially younger campers or those who have only recently had their illness diagnosed, it's the first time they've handled this aspect of their care without their parents' help.

But although the control of their disease is an essential part of each camp day, it's definitely secondary to Camp Chinnock's real purpose, Johnston said.

"We make it so it's camp first, diabetes second," said Johnston by phone from ADA's Sacramento headquarters. "This is a regular camp experience. The kids just happen to be with other kids who have diabetes, which is different from what they experience at home or school. They come here and realize that they're not the only kid who has diabetes."

Activities at Camp Chinnock include swimming in a pool and nearby lake, hiking, sports, nature programs, crafts, theme days and of course, the requisite singing and skits around the campfire. Each cabin houses seven to 10 youngsters plus one or more counselors and counselors-in-training.

Jan Knutson of San Juan Capistrano, whose 11-year-old son, Darrel, has attended Camp Chinnock each summer since he was 7, thinks the experience has helped her youngster build friendships and gain self-confidence, thanks in part to the role models provided by the counselors.

"The younger kids can look at these big kids and say, 'See, they have diabetes and they're great,' " Knutson said.

Learning about the camp's large medical staff and the frequent, independent blood testing and injections helped convince Knutson that her son would be in good hands. In fact, she recently referred a friend's son to the program with good results.

"Her son learned for the first time how to give his own shots," Knutson said. "He saw the other kids doing it and said, 'I can do this, too.' "

"Peer pressure," she added with a laugh, "you know how that is."

What: Camp Chinnock, sponsored by the American Diabetes Assn., California Affiliates Inc.

When: Sunday, Aug. 9, through Aug. 16.

Where: The camp is at Angelus Oaks in the San Bernardino mountains. Orange County campers depart by bus from ADA's Santa Ana offices at 1570 Brookhollow Drive, Suite 170.

Whereabouts: To ADA offices in Santa Ana: Costa Mesa (55) Freeway to the Dyer Road exit. From the south, turn right, then immediately right onto Brookhollow Drive. From the north, turn left, then right on Grand Avenue and right again on Brookhollow.

Wherewithal: $225.

Where to call: (800) 828-8293.

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