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Summer camp means games of kickball, tipping your new friends’ canoe and campfire tales.

But, if you are one of the children who attended Lions Camp Merrick in July, summer camp also meant checking your blood sugar before lunch and talking with the other kids living with Type 1 diabetes.

During the first three weeks of July, about 60 children ages 6 to 16 who have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes attended the camp each week.

Between canoeing on the Potomac River, archery, swimming and kickball games, the children received education about their disease.

Caity Howell, 15, of Bethesda came to Lions Camp Merrick for the eighth time this summer. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 6.

“I like how I can come here and it’s worry-free because they take such great care of you,” Caity said.

Besides the opportunity to participate in camp activities and learn more about diabetes, Caity said she also made friends whom she stays in touch with outside of camp.

“We make an effort to get together with each other,” Sarah Kamen, 15, said. Sarah lives in Annandale, Va., and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 2. She has come to camp for several years.

Sarah said that the last few days of camp were annoying because her blood sugar continued to remain high despite her efforts to keep it down. But the support and advice she received from friends and counselors at camp helped her through it. She said she would like to be a camp counselor in a few years at Camp Merrick.

Bryan Yarrington, assistant director at Lions Camp Merrick, said that the children learned about their rights at school as diabetics, how to play sports when you are a diabetic and the technology available for diabetics. The children learned that new insulin pump models are available and that soon tattoos will be available to alert diabetics when their blood sugar is low.

“It’s kind of a break from all the annoying questions [from children who don’t have diabetes],” said Anna Finley, 14, of Arlington, Va.

Sarah said that she calls the camp her home away from home each summer, and it helps her to learn from the experiences of other children with diabetes.

“I almost feel more at home here,” said Kate Lucas, 15, of Alexandria, Va.

Heidi Fick, executive director of Lions Camp Merrick, said that each day of camp the children learned about diabetes through education exercises, such as blood testing or how to give an injection.

“We’ve got a lot of new campers who have been learning new skills,” Fick said. “But everybody’s been having a good time.”

When a camper learned something about diabetes that she did not know before, the camper ran around the flag pole and was cheered by her fellow campers, Fick said.

Emily Flavin, 8, attended the camp for two weeks this year and one week last year. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 2.

“Sometimes it’s kind of hard because you have to miss out on a lot of things, but sometimes it’s fun because you get to meet a lot of people and come to diabetes camp,” said Emily, who lives in Baltimore.

Emily said she enjoyed receiving mail from her family while at camp, as well as cards from her counselor. Yarrington said a big step for Emily was learning how to change her insulin pump site while at camp and changing her tubing by herself.

“I can manage it on my own,” Emily said.

Yarrington said that if children with diabetes learn to manage the disease on their own, then they can feel that they have control over diabetes, and can become more independent.

In school, Yarrington said, most children will attend with maybe one or two other children who have diabetes. But at Lions Camp Merrick for one week each summer, they get to talk with other children going through what they go through each day.

“They build up a network,” said Yarrington, who has worked at the camp for three summers and is a sixth-grade science teacher during the academic year in Baltimore County.

Luca Maler, 9, of Baltimore said he attended the camp for the first time this summer. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two years ago, and said he was nervous at first because he thought something bad was going to happen to him.

At camp, he participated in the zip line, canoeing, the rock climbing wall and kickball.

Luca said what he enjoyed most about camp was “having other people that have diabetes [around me] because I don’t have to answer the question: ‘What’s that?’ [of his insulin pump].”

In school it is tough, he said, when he has to miss something in class because he has to go to the nurse’s office to have his insulin pump site put back in place.

Christopher Ackerman, 11, of Washington, D.C., attended camp for the second time this summer. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2003.

“It’s been very hard,” Christopher said. “I can’t eat whatever I want anymore.”

He added that camp was “cool and fun,” and he wants to come back every summer.

“It’s a cycle,” Yarrington said. “They get burnt out. They get tired of pricking themselves every day.”

“It was fun, and we have dance parties every night,” said David Teodosio, 12, of Woodbridge, Va. David was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2001, and enjoyed meeting new friends at camp, as well as learning more about diabetes. David learned that an application on smartphones can test blood sugar levels for diabetics.

Fick said the American Diabetes Association used to run the program, which was previously called Camp Glyndon, and began in Baltimore and later was held at Lions Camp Merrick. Fick said that now it is referred to as Camp Glyndon at Lions Camp Merrick. The American Diabetes Association continues to support the program through funding and advertising.

Children with diabetes pay a subsidized rate, and some receive scholarships.

Lions Camp Merrick is owned and operated by local Lions Clubs.

rbarnabi@somdnews.com