Expanding Camp Sweet Life: The Type 1 Diabetes Camp for Youth

Surrounded by beautiful trees and a glimmering lake, Camp Sweet Life's idyllic location in southern Minnesota echoes the message of empowerment its counselors offer students with type 1 diabetes.   Living with diabetes as a child can be challenging. It requires constant monitoring and a level of responsibility that may feel overwhelming for someone so young. Past District Governor (PDG), Anna Wickenhauser says, “I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 15 and I thought my world was over.”

Camp Sweet Life is a five-day, four-night type 1 diabetes camp for youth ages 8-15, with a day camp option for children ages 5-7. The goal of the accredited medical diabetes camp is to transform the lives of children living with type 1 diabetes and their families by providing fun opportunities for learning and connecting. It includes breaks for snacks, nutrition education, blood glucose checks, insulin management and networking opportunities. PDG Wickenhauser says, “I believe in this program because it helps kids learn to take care of themselves and gives them a sense of responsibility.”


The camp was established in 2010 and within a decade, it had outgrown its facilities as the number of campers increased by 311%. A new location would allow Camp Sweet Life to increase its reach and improve the quality and range of support, services and education it offered campers and their families. As camp enrollment and interest continued to rise, additional staff were added, and the counselor and counselor-in-training program was extended. Lions of District 5M-2 recognized the significance of supporting the expansion and enhancement of the camp, so they applied for a Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) grant.

In 2019, LCIF awarded the district a Diabetes Grant for US$37,500 to enhance Camp Sweet Life. The grant funded medical supplies, counselor training and programmatic expenses. Timothy Emmers, President of Camp Sweet Life says, “The LCIF grant was phenomenal. The way we have expanded wouldn’t have been possible without Lions and LCIF.” Additionally, Lions volunteered with set-up, registration and other activities throughout the camp.

More campers are now able to participate in educational experiences about diabetes and its monitoring, medication and management, including age-appropriate diet and daily physical activity. Beyond learning opportunities, they are given the chance to socialize and build a peer support network through attendance at the camp. One of Emmers’ daughters, who attends Camp Sweet Life, keeps in touch with her camp friends throughout the year. Camp activities include campfires, water activities, arts and crafts, archery, dance, nature exploration, group games and STEM activities. A staff member raved about the camp saying, “Watching kids grow in confidence is awesome. It is amazing to see them making new friends and sharing with each other about diabetes.”

LCIF Diabetes Grants support diabetes youth camps and retreats, diabetes screening activities with comprehensive follow-up care plans, infrastructure and equipment acquisition for existing diabetes care facilities and training of professionals and community diabetes educators. Learn more about our Diabetes Grants at lionsclubs.org/diabetesgrants.