balloon headsThere was a sea of green t-shirts at the Lake Highlands Town Center today, worn by fresh-faced counselors from Camp Sweeney as they greeted participants in the Come Out & Play 5K benefiting the camp for diabetic children. The run was part of the larger Art & Play Festival, a Memorial Day event with food trucks, children’s games, vendors’ booths, live music and general merriment.

You can view my photo slideshow here.

Camp Sweeney, founded in 1950 for kids with diabetes, is based upon the premise that shaping good habits takes three weeks. That’s why kids attend camp for that long, and they return home with the competence and confidence it takes to care for their complicated condition for a lifetime.

ernie fernandez“This is going to be my second year as a camp counselor, but I’ve actually been going to camp for almost 20 years,” Andy Marshall told me. “My dad’s worked there for a while, and I’ve been coming up for quite a few summers helping him out.” (Dr. Michael Marshall is an internist and pediatrician.)

Andy just graduated from Texas A&M University, and he starts medical school in the fall. His background is common at Sweeney. Many camp counselors are medical students.

“Camp is a place where I’m always happy and I feel like I’m always doing good,” said Andy. “The moment I look forward to most is seeing that kid go from being in their shell to out of their shell.”

mackenzieMackenzie Fugate, a student at Lake Highlands High School, has watched her friend, Mary Claire Stewart, grapple with the disease for years.

“I’ve seen the whole spectrum of Mary Claire’s diabetes. I’ve seen when she’s really high and there’s an emergency going on, and I’ve seen when she’s really low and we’ve got to get her some dinner. I’ve seen the emotional effect, too. I don’t know what it feels like, but I can only imagine,” said Mackenzie, in clear admiration of her friend.

“She handles it so well, I don’t know if I would be able to do it. If I had a difficult situation, I would definitely lean on Mary Claire.”

Mary Claire, a graduating LHHS senior who’ll head to UT in the fall, has attended Camp Sweeney for ten years and was awarded their Code of Living, given to one camper most respected by peers and staff. She says the biggest lesson she learned at camp is the importance of having hope.

Mary Claire“Diabetes is manageable,” she said, speaking especially to other diabetic children. “You can have a normal life. There are other people out there like you. Remember to have hope and joy.”

Long-time camp director, Dr. Ernie Fernandez, was at the festival passing out hugs and words of encouragement to kids he’s mentored for many years.

“To see Dr. Ernie and all of the camp staff and counselors here is amazing,” said Mary Claire. These people come out and they literally give their all – all they have in their heart they pour into us. It is something I will be eternally grateful for.”

“It’s awesome to see all the support that’s been given to us,” Mary Claire added, looking around at the LH crowd. “We recognize that a lot of the families out here, we’ve leaned on at one time or another. Seeing them come out and get their friends to come out – I just feel very supported and loved by Lake Highlands.”