At first glance, the only thing distinguishing Camp Needles from any other summer camp is the smattering of red plastic containers – used for safe needle disposal – atop some of the picnic tables. The campers have the chance to engage in typical camp fare from tubing to tenting to tie-dyeing. But as they learn to navigate crafts and canoes, they’re also learning to navigate the challenges of their disease with help from the medical professionals and counselors who volunteer there.
There are doctors from East Carolina University and other local offices on-site all week. There are nurses, nutritionists and diabetes educators, too. “So often, the staff only get to see these kids in the hospital and clinic where we have to be ‘rule enforcers,’” Braxton said. “It’s so rewarding for us to see them healthy and having fun and just being kids.”
Many Camp Needles counselors are living with Type 1 diabetes, so they are not only familiar with needles, they know firsthand the importance of having adult role models who are successfully managing the disease.
One such counselor is Melvin Cox of Lillington, a high school math teacher who’s attended Camp Needles for 23 years – the first two as a camper, the rest as a counselor.
“As a young person with diabetes, this was the only place I ever went where I felt like everyone was like me,” he said. “I learned more about my diabetes here than I ever would’ve learned on my own or at the doctor’s office. Seeing that I wasn’t the only one having that experience was so valuable.”