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Camp bolsters children with diabetes

Guyisha Riley cried as she dropped off her young daughter for summer camp this week.

The Dumfries mom isn’t used to leaving 7-year-old Trinity with others, because the girl’s Type 1 diabetes requires careful monitoring of blood sugar levels, carbohydrates and physical activity.

She toted Trinity and a folder filled with medical documents to Fredericksburg Baptist Church for the first day of camp on Monday. But a nurse told Riley, “We got this.”

The camp staff had contacted Trinity’s endocrinologist and had copies of her medical records already.

Riley met with the nurses and dietitians running the camp and felt that she was leaving Trinity in capable hands. For the first time since Trinity’s diagnosis three years ago, Riley didn’t have to stay glued to the phone, anxiously awaiting a phone call with questions about insulin or blood sugar.

That alone was worth the daily drive from Prince William County, the mom said. But the camp provided more than simply four days of respite.

Trinity knows just one other child with diabetes, and she refuses to check her blood sugar or take her insulin shots when other people are around.

“As a kid, the last thing you want is to be different or odd,” Riley said.

At Kids for a Cure Camp, Trinity is just another child learning to line dance to “Under the Sea.”

At lunch, all of the campers—and the counselors—check their blood sugar. Several give themselves insulin shots near mealtime.

“For the first time ever, she sees a room full of kids who are just like her,” Riley said. “I asked her what the best part of camp was and she said, ‘Lunch, because every kid has to test their blood sugar and I didn’t have to hide. I felt normal.’”

Camper Briana Fitton understood completely. This year marked her fifth time coming to the annual camp for children with Type 1 diabetes.

During the school year, the 11-year-old girl gets tired of classmates staring when she has to check her blood sugar. She can’t talk to most of her friends about carb counting or insulin pumps.

But at camp, she’s made a close friend, Annika Natividad.

“It’s nice having another friend who has diabetes, because they understand you,” Briana said.

For eight years, the camp—which is run by Mary Washington Healthcare’s diabetes management program—has provided children with diabetes the chance to have normal summer camp activities.

Kids for a Cure Camp is offered through partnerships with community agencies that sponsor the activities. Campers pay $100 for the week, and scholarships are available.

The camp is staffed by nurses and dietitians who are certified diabetes educators. And it provides a safe environment—and education—for managing diabetes.

This past week, campers learned to cook a healthful low-carb pasta salad made with gluten-free farfalle and played a game to learn about counting carbs.

They’ve been swimming in a pool, created many crafts, played games and learned new dance moves.

“The message that camp sends is: ‘We don’t let diabetes stop us from anything,’” said Christina Zalewski, who helped with the first camp when her children were young.

Her children are now 18 and 21, and Zalewski still volunteers because she knows how much the camp helps families.

And having a local camp is important, because families often travel to Charlottesville, Richmond or Northern Virginia to see pediatric endocrinologists because there aren’t any in the area, said Cathy Peterjohn, who runs Mary Washington Healthcare’s diabetes management program.

The camp ended Thursday, with a special musical presentation for parents.

Trinity and her mom are already counting down until next year’s camp.

“This has been the most amazing experience in both of our lives,” Riley said.

Amy Umble: 540/735-1973


Type 1 diabetes is often called juvenile diabetes, because it is typically diagnosed during childhood. About 5 percent of people with diabetes have Type 1, which occurs when a body cannot produce enough insulin.


Camp is over for the year, but Kids for a Cure offers family support, education and holiday gatherings. For details, go to and click on “diabetes management.”