Camp offers haven for children learning to live with diabetes

Ben Wolford

Camp director Rich Humphreys (right) stands with campers near the archery range at Camp Ho Mita Koda. The camp derives its name from the Sioux phrase for “Welcome my friend.” DAVE RANUCCI | SUMMER KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

Campers at Ho Mita Koda enjoy most of the usual resident camp activities. A typical day begins with breakfast, followed by flag raising and morning assembly. Then they proceed to their first activity, which could be anything from arts and crafts to fencing.

Then they have their blood sugar tested.

Camp Ho Mita Koda (Sioux for “welcome my friend”) was the first camp in the world for children with diabetes. There have since been others, but this subsidiary of the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland is a haven for Northeast Ohioans with the disease.

The camp, located in Newbury, is generally for children with Type 1 diabetes, but offers programs for teenagers with Type 2, a form more commonly found in adults. Depending on age group, the duration of the residence camp ranges from four to 12 days and from $350-$725.

Ho Mita Koda sees about 300 campers a year, ages 4 to 21.

“There are only two differences from any other camp,” said camp director Rich Humphreys. “One would be diet – we count the number of carbs – and the dispensary.”

The camp staff has “very comprehensive” records for all the campers and a dietitian and physician are on duty. A dispensary is ready with insulin 24 hours a day.

One of the dispensary rooms for administering shots has been humorously dubbed “The Glucodome.”

That kind of lightheartedness is recurrent throughout the camp.

Aside from the typical horseback riding, archery and fishing, the campers put together a class to learn how to be a ninja. Frisbees suffice for ninja stars.

The campers come up with new ideas all the time.

“These guys are great,” Humphreys said. “They came up with a new pirates theme last month.”

The campers made boats out of cardboard and duct tape and raced them in the Olympic size swimming pool.

Dylan Wilson of Barberton has attended Camp Ho Mita Koda the last four summers. He said he keeps coming back “because it’s a lot of fun. It’s like my second home.”

The grounds feature a 36-foot climbing wall and a high ropes course.

“The high ropes course is mind over matter,” Humphreys said. “It’s conquering challenges, like taking your first insulin shot.”

Part of what the camp tries to teach is overcoming difficulties, which has become one of the camp’s themes.

Even the camp’s creation was in reaction to difficulties.

Before insulin was discovered in 1921, the average expected lifespan of a person diagnosed with diabetes was three years.

Camp founder Henry John joined the Cleveland Clinic the year insulin was discovered and worked at perfecting and researching the new product.

In 1929, after seeing that more things needed to be done for those with diabetes than just giving them shots, he began taking patients to his property in Newbury where they would learn how to deal with diabetes and have fun with other children with the same disease.

Evan Moritz is in his first year as a counselor, but has been a camper, a counselor-in-training and has worked in the kitchen. He said he loves the camp.

“I can’t leave this place now because it’s my favorite place in the world,” he said. “This is the only thing that makes me glad I got diabetes.”

Contact features correspondent Ben Wolford at [email protected].