UIC departments team up to help kids with diabetes

American Diabetes Association camp at UIC

UIC men’s gymnastics head coach Charley Nelson makes balloon animals for kids who participated in the American Diabetes Association camp at UIC. (Photo: Tim Hurley)

For kids with Type 1 diabetes, the circus came to town this summer, thanks to an American Diabetes Association camp hosted at UIC.

“Circus” was the camp’s theme this year, and campus departments came together to make the experience a memorable one for campers.

Organized by the UI Health pediatric endocrinology team, the weeklong camp provided kids, ages 4 to 9, with a safe environment to learn about diabetes and have a regular camp experience.

“It is so important that kids with diabetes learn to manage their health early and that while they learn about blood sugar and insulin, they also learn that they can live a normal life,” said Marla Solomon, co-director of the ADA camp and a diabetes educator at UI Health. “That’s the point of the camp.”

During the camp, members of the team performed for the campers, entertaining the kids with floor, beam, vault, pommel horse, rings and bar routines. With aid from the athletes, campers then spent time trying out the equipment and running through obstacles.

Charley Nelson, head coach of the men’s gymnastics team, made balloon animals.

“We were thrilled to collaborate on the camp and give back to the community,” Nelson said.

“It was an awesome experience to see smiles on the kids’ faces,” said Wes Diveney, a junior studying chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and co-captain of the men’s gymnastics team. “We showed off some of the skills we thought fit the circus theme and the kids were amazed. It was great to see something I love give happiness to others.”

Benjamin Ponce, a 2016 graduate of the School of Theater and Music, worked with campers each day to create circus-themed art and theater illustrating the healthy habits kids learned.

Ponce said that he first asked campers to select and draw a circus animal. As the week progressed, kids imagined stories related to what they learned in the camp.

“One kid acted out a story about a motorcycle rider who was able to take an insulin shot while doing flips in a cage,” said Ponce, a producer, actor and writing teacher. “Another camper performed a skit about a lion who didn’t like shots and ate a lion tamer. The kids were able to have fun while applying the lessons they were learning to different scenarios.”

There are eight ADA daytime camps in Illinois, but only one in Chicago. UIC has hosted the Chicago day camp since 2012.

UIC graduates and faculty also participated at ADA camps throughout Illinois.

Laurie Quinn, clinical professor in the College of Nursing, worked as a health team coordinator for an overnight camp located in Ingleside for 9- to 13-year-old kids.

“There are so many UIC people involved with the ADA camps,” Quinn said. “It’s a really powerful reflection of how people from UIC — and from the College of Nursing, College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy campuses outside of Chicago, too — continue to give back and use their skills for the community.”