Third-year School of Pharmacy student Clayton Melson made sure his calendar was clear last week.
That’s when Self Regional Healthcare hosted Camp Porcupine, a camp for children with diabetes, as the Greenwood hospital has done for the past 25 years.
Melson volunteered at the camp last year and was rearing to go this year, too, but, on the first day of camp, he noticed someone was missing.
“We have one camper who was new to the camp last year, shortly after he was diagnosed,” Melson said. “It took him a couple of days to really warm up to the other campers.
“Everything was new to him: his meter, his insulin, his way of life.”
Melson was looking forward to seeing the camper again, but he wasn’t there when check-in time ended at 9 Monday morning.
“It wasn't until 9:05 when I saw that big grin walking down the hill that I knew that this camp didn't just have an impact on the kids' lives, it had an impact on mine, as well,” Melson said.
Melson was among 13 School of Pharmacy students who volunteered at Camp Porcupine at the Greenwood Family YMCA last week. They were on hand to live out the pharmacy’s school’s mission to care for the community by helping teach diabetic children how to manage their condition while still having fun.
Melson and others used games to teach the 7- to 15-year-old children how to count carbohydrates, how to eat healthier, and how their bodies react to eating, fasting and exercise.
The volunteers also helped keep an eye on the campers as they hiked, swam, and participated in other crafts and activities throughout the week.
“A lot of times, these kids aren't as active in their regular lives because they may see their condition as a restriction,” Melson said. “At camp we turn this restriction into a minor hindrance.”
Melson said the camp shows the children they’re not alone and gives them an opportunity to look out for one another. It’s not uncommon for campers to ask the volunteers and staff members to check on their fellow campers if they look like tired or look like their blood sugar is low.
No matter how much fun they’re having, campers stop whatever game or activity they’re doing so their fellow camper can be checked on. Campers will gladly wait until their fellow camper’s blood sugar level is brought back under control before they begin playing again.
What about the camper Melson was waiting for on the first day of camp?
“He had a great week,” Melson said. “From one year to now, he has grown from the quiet new guy to the center of attention.
“But more importantly, he has grown with his condition, and that is something that I feel grateful to have contributed to.”