By Todd Martin
Summer camp, with its non-stop schedule of arts and crafts, sports and water games is a rite of passage for many children and teenagers.
For a group of determined Central Texas parents, a special camp in a special place allows their children and teens to do everything campers everywhere do even though they have type 1 diabetes.
This week, Variety’s Peaceable Kingdom Retreat for Children south of Killeen is hosting Camp Bluebonnet with 200 first- through 12th-grade students. They are children who have diabetes and their siblings.
“I love camp and lots of kids love camp,” said Amy Wallquist, president of the organization that operates Camp Bluebonnet. “Not everyone does. I want them to find their thing, whatever that is.
“It’s important to find other kids like you,” she said. “Kids with diabetes are just kids.”
Fourth-grader Gavin Castelan was eating lunch with his friends. His face was painted from an arts activity and he was talking about a nickname he acquired based on the movie “Ant Man.”
As children ate their lunches in the retreat dining facility, a doctor made his rounds checking on campers’ blood sugar levels. No one seemed to notice or care.
“It’s fun because we go swimming and play on the water slide,” said Castelan, who is going to be a fourth-grader in Austin ISD. “I also like the foam fan,” a contraption that blows bubbles.
“I’ve been here lots of times,” the experienced camper said. “It’s one of the best weeks of the year.”
Five days of camp began Monday with an opening ceremony, complete with a New Year’s theme and a dropping ball and blowing confetti.
Every day included campers within grade levels moving from low ropes to high ropes courses to games, crafts, archery, animal encounters, swimming, lunch and blood sugar checks.
It was 35 years ago that a group of parents in Austin began a series of play dates to get their children together and share knowledge of diabetes.
That practice evolved to include medical professionals and took the form of a day camp at Zilker Park and later at Reunion Ranch, before a Peaceable Kingdom director invited the group to the sprawling retreat near Killeen.
Now, hundreds of campers make the trip Monday through Friday on multiple buses from the Austin and Round Rock areas. Many parents, including those in Killeen and Copperas Cove, bring their children and some stay all day.
The planning organization, Children’s Disability Camp of Central Texas, added an additional camp for high school students and an introductory camp for pre-school children, as well as a camp for adults with type 1 diabetes.
“We are trying to hit the whole population,” said Wallquist. “We are for the whole family.” The week of Camp Bluebonnet includes daily activities for parents, including informational sessions.
Peaceable Kingdom, with its pastoral name and bucolic setting along the Lampasas River, is a place where children and teens and their parents get away for play and rest.
“Diabetes is relentless,” Wallquist said. “Camp can be a booster shot. We tell them to keep up the good work and to find what recharges you.”
“What I like is that I’m in a camp surrounded by people like me,” said Maura Connors, headed into seventh grade in Leander ISD. “It’s a safe place.”
She said she enjoyed the arts and crafts and was learning about how carbohydrates break up in your body.
“It’s important to have a camp like this because for a lot of diabetics, it would be dangerous. Here we can feel safe and have fun. Sometimes when I’m here I forget I have diabetes.”
June 20, 2017