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A shot at living
Camp helps children overcome diabetes
Camp Kudzu 1 es
David MacDonald, center, is seen through a hole that Tom Little, a deputy with the Forsyth County Sheriff's SWAT team, shows in a door that was blasted as a demonstration during the recent Kudzu Venture weekend. Camp Kudzu, a nonprofit organization designed to bring fun, friends and education to children with diabetes, sponsored the weekend. - photo by Emily Saunders

Stephen Holcomb caught his first striper last weekend. At 18 pounds it was the largest fish reeled in during Kudzu Venture weekend.

Holcomb was one of 29 teenage boys who participated in the annual adventure, sponsored by Camp Kudzu, a nonprofit organization designed to bring fun, friends and education to children with diabetes.

"I did it last year," said Holcomb, a student at Forsyth Central High School. "It was fun last year, so I did it again this year."

Now 16, Holcomb was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 12. Over four years, he said, he's been able to work himself off insulin "to where I control it with a pill and diet."

He was in the minority over the weekend, as about 40 percent of the boys were on an insulin pump, and the bulk of the remaining had to inject some form of insulin.

"They thought it was weird that I didn't take insulin all the time," said Holcomb, who told the group how he was able to make the switch.

The action-packed weekend landed the group in Forsyth County, where Saturday the teens learned what it was like to be a SWAT team member before heading out to fish on Lake Lanier.

They also shot clay pigeons in Dawson County and climbed a 60-foot Alpine tower and learned self-defense movements in Lumpkin County.

Beyond their high adventures, the boys learned that despite being dependent insulin, they can partake in the same activities as their friends without diabetes.

"They taught us not to let diabetes hold us back from doing anything we want to," Holcomb said.
Camp Kudzu also offers a weekend adventure for teenage girls with diabetes. But instead of teaching them about acceptance and being responsible, the organization focuses more on self-esteem and empowerment issues, said executive director Alex Allen.

"You can write books on it," she said.

"Girls are very body conscious, just as they are with our without diabetes, and so that can lead to some problems managing diabetes."

Allen said boys have other issues with regard to diabetes, and "a lot of it stems from acceptance versus denial."

"In your teen years you want to fit in and you don't want to be different and the need to take care of a chronic illness sets you apart, and that's not a good feeling," she said. "Sometimes teenage boys are in denial and do not take care of themselves because to do so would set them apart."

During the weekend, there were more than 15 staff members and volunteers on hand, many of whom acted as counselors. The teens received advice on balancing carbohydrates with insulin, decision making and also emotional issues related to the disease.

Though Camp Kudzu has been sponsoring weeklong summer camps since 2000, the weekend retreats are in just their third year.

Forsyth resident Gary Willis has been participating since the beginning. His daughter, Ali, was diagnosed with diabetes a decade ago.

Willis, who began as a summer camp volunteer, signed up when the weekend adventures began. He was the head of staff over the weekend.

"We had a closing ceremony where the kids stood up and told what they got out of the weekend and the No. 1 answer was they learned they can live a life and do anything they want to," he said. "They really enjoyed it. We had an incredible weekend."