How a Camp for Kids With Diabetes Teaches Them to Live Life to the Fullest

Camp Sweeney teaches kids the skills they need to live with diabetes.

Back in 1948, Imogene Parker was just a scared 12-year-old girl when she was first diagnosed with diabetes. 

"The only person I knew with diabetes was an older man. And I had heard all of my life that poor old thing was dying with diabetes. So, in my mind, I was dying," Parker told

Two years later, Camp Sweeney was opened near Gainesville, Texas, by a local endocrinologist, Dr. J. Shirley Sweeney. Its purpose was to help children with type 1 diabetes learn how they can manage the disease, while teaching them perseverance, faith and courage.

"In fact, the doctors didn't give my parents hope that I would be grown. I fooled them, didn't I,” Parker laughed.

She was one of their first campers. 

"Back then, instead of the glucose meter or monitors, we boiled our urine. We literally boiled it. I hated it that as a 12-year-old. You can imagine me having to tell my friends what I had to do. But after I went to Camp Sweeney, it didn't bother me."

Since opening, the camp has served more than 30,000 kids living with the disease. It is the largest camp of its type in the world.

At age 83, she still goes back — most recently hanging at their end-of-summer bash.

To current campers, including Micah Harrill, she’s just Grandma Imogene.

"She is just wonderful. She's so sweet you can definitely tell that she cares about camp. To her, it's not an afterthought, it's truly, like, her main priority," Micah told

Diagnosed with diabetes as a small child, the 13-year-old said Camp Sweeney has helped him manage it.

“It was an amazing experience, it's really just out of this world. You get to go where everyone has something in common with you. That’s super rare,” he said.

Micah admitted the experience has helped him be candid about the challenges he faces and advised others who might be struggling to do the same.

“I would just say to talk about it to your family, to if there are any diabetics who go to your school, who live near you. Just be willing to open up and not hold all the emotions in. I used to hold all the thoughts and the feelings that I had, and I had to eventually let them go," he said. "They’d be the worst feeling in the world. So just be as open as you can."

“The three weeks he spends there, his health, and his well-being, and his emotional state are the best it is the entire year,” Micah’s mother, Brandi, told

For Camp Sweeney’s service, it has been recognized by Reader’s Digest and Life Extension as a Community Health Heroes finalist— for its dedication to kindness, trust and health.

Grandma Imogene and Micah said they're going to keep returning to the camp as often as they can for as long as they can.