Camp Ho Mita Koda, the world’s first and oldest operating summer camp for kids with Type 1 diabetes, will soon be welcoming campers year-round, thanks largely to LCIF and the hands-on work and financial support of the Lions in Northeast Ohio.

Founded in 1929, the Ohio camp about 25 miles east of Cleveland kicked off National Diabetes Awareness Month with major updates to their facilities. Eight of their four cabins are now ready for winter use, and the others will have final renovations completed by early spring. Finished cabins are now fully

Sherwin-Williams resurrected the nostalgic paint color that was used on the cabins back in the 1950s.

insulated for the winter, have new roofs, doors, and windows, updated lighting, and new internal siding.

Don’t recognize them? That’s because their boring grey exterior has been re-painted, taking them back to the camp’s historic color, Ho Mita Koda Red.

The Sherwin-Williams Company, headquartered in Cleveland, resurrected the nostalgic paint color that was used on the cabins back in the 1950s. Volunteers, including Lions, helped staff with the painting.

Funding for the improvements came from a US$45,000 LCIF Diabetes Grant and US$7,500 District and Clubs Community Impact Grant. An additional US$7,500 in matching funds was contributed by the clubs and District 13 OH4, says Painesville Lion Ernie Richmann, the district diabetes chair.

Lions and other volunteers help winterize one of the cabins at Camp Ho Mita Koda.

The grant was approved on the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin and the camp name comes from the native Sioux language, meaning “Welcome, my friend.”

Upwards of 300 children ages 4 to 17 spend a week at the 72-acre not-for-profit camp each summer, making friends, having fun, and learning to manage their disease. Another 300-plus come to visit with other programs.

Richmann says these improvements will help expand their reach and service, supporting more people and providing rental opportunities to the community. A retired science teacher, he holds a special place in his heart for the camp and the kids. For 20 years he was a competitive runner, and at age 57 he learned that he has Type 1 diabetes.

“When I was teaching, I’d see third graders wearing an insulin pump and they’d see my pump,” says Richmann. Both understood what the other was going through.

He first learned about the camp from a Lion’s webinar. Intrigued by this place less than an hour from his home, he went out to take a look.

“The next thing I know I’m helping with fishing derbies,” he says.

He was hooked. Richmann joined the many Lion volunteers of Northeast Ohio who have helped help paint, build wheelchair ramps, split wood, repair fences, and planted trees on the land.

Camp Executive Director Ian Roberts says what’s been built by Lions for the children on this wooded land is incredible.

Kids fish at a pier
Children with Type 1 diabetes get to do normal camp stuff for one week a year at Camp Ho Mita Koda.

In 1929, Camp Ho Mita Koda was a quiet spot, the summer home of Dr. Henry John from the Cleveland Clinic, and his wife, Betty, who worked in the clinic’s lab. They took in six children to try and help them manage their diabetes. There, on what is now camp land, they witnessed the power of insulin not just to keep children alive but to help them live a higher quality of life.

More than 90 years later, during COVID-19, Camp Ho Mita Koda became the only overnight Type I diabetes camp for kids in the world that remained open, says Roberts. The staff stayed through the season, never leaving the grounds. Medical staff from hospitals including the Cleveland Clinic helped them operate safely and within all restrictions.

Parents and their children know that same medical attention is on site around the clock, pandemic or not, just as they appreciate that Lion support is right around the corner.

“Lions have been involved in every step,” says Roberts. “We could not have done it without them.”