Happy campers

Camp Nejeda gives children with diabetes a chance to be free.

Story by Wendy Rose Gould
Photos courtesy Camp Nejeda Foundation

It was a serendipitous sequence of events that led to the extraordinary relationship between the Kiwanis Club of Greater Parsippany, New Jersey, and Camp Nejeda, a sleepaway summer camp for children with Type 1 diabetes. On a morning when the club was hosting its regular meeting at a local diner, the camp’s executive director, Bill Vierbuchen, was scheduled to meet with someone else in the same location.

When that person didn’t show, Vierbuchen introduced himself to the club and explained Camp Nejeda’s mission to enhance the lives of children through one- and two-week-long sessions.

“Going to Camp Nejeda is the first time many of these children have been away from their parents,” explains Kiwanian Michael Mulhaul, who works closely with the camp. “The children are monitored and have nurses on staff at all times, and the camp knows how to keep them safe and healthy while still giving them the camp experience.”

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Imagine the freedom campers enjoy when they don’t have to explain things like blood-sugar levels, finger pricks, carb counting, insulin injections and ketones. Instead, they interact with other children who already understand. Plus, they’re mentored by camp counselors who often are former Nejeda campers themselves.

Since that fateful meeting, the club has donated approximately US$35,000 to Camp Nejeda through the annual Grand Tasting event, a wine-, liquor- and beer-tasting extravaganza eagerly anticipated by the community. Camp Nejeda’s staff and parents sell tickets, donate items for silent and live auctions and set up a booth to raise awareness. In return, the club donates $10,000 of event proceeds to funnel into the camp’s scholarship fund.

“A third of our kids who come to camp come on scholarship because they cannot afford to pay for it on their own,” notes Vierbuchen.

The camp charges $1,050 weekly per child, though the actual cost is about $1,800. Expenses are higher compared to other overnight camps due to specialized needs, such as the 75,000 finger pricks given every summer at a cost of $1 each.

In addition to fundraising, Kiwanians stop by the camp to visit.

“The camp’s impact has been incredible,” Vierbuchen says. “Our kids have learned a lot from the Kiwanians. … They see the joy of giving back.”

This story originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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