NEW JERSEY - The summer of 2018 was the first time Cooper Dutton, now 10 years old, ever felt like he belonged.
“I like going to camp because everyone there has diabetes including the counselors,” said Cooper.
Every summer since, Cooper has spent a week or two at Camp Nejeda. It’s a safe haven in Stillwater, New Jersey for kids-- ages 7 to 16-- living with Type 1 Diabetes.
“That’s the type of diabetes you get when your body attacks the pancreas where insulin is made,” said Dr. Henry Anhalt.
Since 1958 Nejeda has offered diabetic kids and teens a real camp experience, while also learning how to balance their insulin and adrenaline levels in an engaging way.
“In camp Nejeda, maybe we are taking a ride over the zip line and the kids get to see what happens in their own bodies, they feel it and then later when they are talking with their nurse at lunch at the picnic table, they say oh I understand now,” said Jennifer Van Vlandren, development director for Camp Nejeda Foundation.
It’s a time for growth and learning—offered either daily or for overnight periods. Hundreds of families across the tristate area rely on this camp, but this year the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the programs to move to online.
Even virtually – the lessons learned are invaluable.
“They are going to gain new skills and how to inject and how to do things that they may have been shy to do because they’ve never really met anyone else who has diabetes from a peer support, so peer support is probably the most important educational piece,” said Dr. Anhalt.
Cooper is enjoying virtual camp this year, but he and his mom, Shannon, still have high hopes for next summer. They also want their story to inspire other families in similar situations.
“They really ease my mind with sending him and I learned that they have a lot more people caring for him at camp than we do at home and that he’s in a safe environment, but also able to attend a camp like any other kid,” said Shannon.
“I hope I get to go to camp next year. I learned that we can do anything that other people can. I hope I get to go to camp next year,” said Cooper.
100% of the funding for the camp comes from donations.