COLUMBIA — More than 100 potential campers have inquired about spots at Camp Hickory Hill, a summer camp for children with Type 1 diabetes, indicating growing awareness that the camp never closed.
The camp put its 77 acres up for sale in 2009 because of financial troubles, but since then, circumstances seem to have turned the camp around. Its leadership has changed, the camp is diversifying by booking off-season events and it is scheduling a number of upcoming fundraisers.
Frank J. La Mantia, the camp's development director, said he expects the highest number of campers in five years this summer. About 27 children attended in 2009, 35 in 2010 and 47 in 2011.
This year, La Mantia is expecting about 60 campers in July, though more than 100 already have called expressing interest in enrolling. The camp is scheduled to run July 15 through 29 for children ages 13 to 17 and July 22 through 29 for children ages 7 to 12.
Awareness that the land never sold and that the camp continued to operate helped propel the increase, La Mantia said.
"The camp is open and functioning," he said. "People realize the campgrounds are doing very well and that kids are having fun. All of the fundraisers are a good way of getting word out about the camp."
Upcoming fundraisers include a potluck in April and a "Summer Blast," featuring a live band and a fireworks show in June.
The camp also began looking for more ways to rent its property to organizations, including churches and Boy Scouts groups, year-round to raise funds and maintain the grounds.
"In the past three years, we've increased rentals by at least 50 percent," La Mantia said, adding that the camp will stage its first wedding in September.
David Bernhardt, the former vice president of the camp's board of directors, was elected president of the board, and his wife, Jessica Bernhardt, became the camp director in 2010 after financial troubles put the future of the camp into question.
"We got into contact with alumni and service organizations, and they donated money and came to events," Jessica Bernhardt said. "The donations and fundraisers helped keep the camp open."
Camp Hickory Hill is located about five miles north of Columbia on 5951 W. Hatton Chapel Road.
"We're like any other camp but with a diabetic aspect," Jessica Bernhardt said. "Children get to play softball, swim, do arts and crafts, fish, canoe, rappel and zip-line. But the whole time, children have to check their blood sugar and make sure it's at a normal range, and if it's not, we treat it accordingly. The camp always has a physician on site."
La Mantia said education is also an important aspect of the camp.
"We educate kids on diabetes, from how to give insulin shots to how to manage blood sugar," La Mantia said. "We also have a dietician on duty that cooks meals."
Jessica Bernhardt said, "Children are learning every moment of every day. We try to get them to become independent so they can manage their diabetes themselves."