In February we hosted a camp contest for food-allergic kids to win a 2 week spot at Camp Wingate*Kirkland this summer. Any food allergy parent knows what a special opportunity it is to go to summer camp like a ‘regular’ kid and have fun, without the worries of food allergies for the camper or the parent! Well, we’re proud to share the winner with you. Congratulations to Grace!!! Grace’s mom, Christie, was kind enough to answer a few questions for us and sent us a letter about their introductory tour of the camp. It brings joy to my heart to see the smile on Grace’s face and we wish her a fun-filled camp experience.
Jennifer: We’re so happy for you and Grace! What a great experience this summer’s camp stay will be for Grace. Tell us, how did you hear about the contest?
Christie: I heard about the contest from a friend of mine who came across it online on your blog, actually.
Jennifer: Did you or Grace write the winning essay?
Christie: Grace actually submitted a video essay; I recorded it but the words were hers. The only advice I gave her was to speak from her heart, which she did.
Jennifer: What prompted you or Grace to enter?
Christie: What prompted me to have Grace enter the contest was the fact that she has been wanting to attend an overnight camp but was afraid because of her allergies. As you know, not everyone understands food allergies. Cross-contamination of food is a real issue; unfortunately there are too many people who think you can simply take a pecan off a salad and serve it to a tree nut allergic child. I want Grace to experience the wonders of childhood, and I don’t want her food allergies to hold her back from those experiences. Camp WK seems to be a place where she can be just like every other child for two weeks.
Jennifer: Please tell us about Grace’s allergies.
Christie: Grace is allergic to tree nuts and shellfish. She carries an EpiPen, but thankfully we have never needed to use it! We discovered Grace’s allergies when she was about three years old. She had a bite of lobster and within 30 minutes she broke out in hives from head to toe; it looked as if someone had scalded her in hot water. The pediatrician told us to give her Benedryl every four hours or so, which we did, and to also have her tested for food allergies. I made an appointment with an allergist; during that waiting period to see the allergist we were at the mall and Grace ate candy corn from one of the bulk candy bins at a store. Within a few minutes, she broke out in hives head to toe! After giving her Benedryl again, I called the allergist’s office rather confused because there wasn’t shellfish in the candy corn. The allergist said that it was probably a tree nut allergy and that candy corn was one of the most cross-contaminated foods – especially those in bulk bins. Sure enough, when I asked the store manager about it he confirmed that pistachios had been in that specific bin before. When we did finally see the allergist, Grace tested positive for tree nuts and shellfish. She is not allergic to peanuts, thankfully.
Jennifer: How do you feel about sending Grace off to summer camp?
Christie: I am so excited for Grace! Summer camp was one of my favorite childhood memories, and I want her to have the same experience – in a way that is safe for her. Of course, there is a part of me that is nervous, but I made a commitment to myself a long time ago that I would never let my anxiety about her allergies get in the way of her life as long she was safe and being cared for. I had not heard of Camp Wingate Kirkland before the contest, but I have now done tons of research on the camp. It looks like an amazing place for children to have fun, learn new things and gain self-confidence – in a safe environment.
Jennifer: Is this her first time away from you for an extended amount of time? How do you feel about that?
Christie: This would be her second time away from her dad and me for this long of a period. Last summer, Grace and her brother Patrick went on a two-week Alaska cruise with their grandparents. They sailed Princess Cruises, and the cruise line was amazing with her allergies. That said, this will be the fist time she is away for such a long period without anyone from her family being there!
Jennifer: What about your daughter are you most proud of?
Christie: I am most proud of the independent, responsible young girl that she is becoming. A few months ago, Grace went out to eat at a local chain restaurant (one that we trust) with another family. It was the first time she ate out without a family member. She was nervous, but she had her chef card (listing all her food allergies), and I was told that she called the manager over to table when they sat down to speak with him about her food allergies. Everything went fine, but what Grace gained from that experience was self-confidence! She now has confidence that she can advocate for herself and not let her food allergies get in the way!
We are raising Grace to be proactive about her food allergies. She knows how to read food labels, and we have taught her to that even “safe” foods are not always safe because manufacturing processes change. When she goes to birthday parties, she takes her own food and is diligent about eating only foods she knows is safe for her. We also raising her to understand that as much as we would like for her to have every opportunity in the world, there will be things that just won’t work for her – and that is okay. Not everyone or every business can or wants to be accommodating. She needs to learn to be appreciative for the things and experiences that are safe for her, rather than focusing on what she may miss out on.
I also want to add one more item – Grace’s friends. She has the most supportive, incredible friends. I tell her all the time how blessed she is to have friends who want her to experience all the goodness of life, safely. In the example before, Grace’s friend asked Grace to pick the restaurant for dinner because she wanted it to be safe for Grace. It is such a beautiful lesson in friendship when children are kind to each other this way.
Here is the letter Christie sent me following their introductory tour of the camp. I’m sharing it with you because it made me smile and I hope it will do the same for you. I understand as a food allergy mom what kind of joy Christie must be feeling to share this food allergy safe sleep away camp experience with her daughter.
I want to share with you this photo of Grace with Mia (Sandy and Will’s daughter) at Camp Wingate*Kirkland, standing in front of the bunk house where they will stay this summer. We had the great fortune of receiving a tour of the camp on Saturday, and Mia was Grace’s tour guide.
Meeting Sandy and Will, and seeing the camp firsthand was incredible. Any anxiety I had about sending Grace away for camp was immediately relieved. They are not only generous and kind people, they live what they believe. The practices they have in place to ensure that camp is a fun, safe experience for all campers are very detailed and well thought out. I was impressed by the level of detail they shared with me about how the chef checks all food labels, how they ensure campers don’t bring in food with nuts, how they have EpiPens within reach throughout the camp, etc.
One of the most poignant moments was when we were in the dining hall and Grace asked if they serve dessert with dinner. Grace asked because she can’t eat dessert at most places we go, and that sometimes makes her feel sad to watch everyone else enjoy themselves. Sandy not only said that yes they serve dessert but that everything was safe for Grace, and then she gave her a chocolate chip brownie the chef had made earlier that day. On the way home, Grace said she thought that at Camp WK she was really going to be about “Grace from Lunenburg” not just “Grace with nut allergies” – and that made my heart smile! That is exactly what the Camp WK mission is all about!
What a gift Grace has been given in so many ways!
Camp Wingate*Kirkland is a traditional overnight camp where you are inspired and empowered with a choice of daily activities. And like it was 55 years ago – W * K is not a “plugged in” camp. Campers feel supported and confident to step out of their comfort-zone and try new things without the fear of failure. Camper safety, having fun, and developing life skills are our priorities.