Dealing with diabetes: Kids attend special camp at the Marco YMCA


Happy to show his silver “dog tag” identifying him as a Type 1 diabetic, 11-year-old Maximus Collins of Everglades City was matter-of-fact about the disease.

“At my school, we don't have any other students with diabetes,” said Collins. “It’s only me. I check my sugar. If it's low, you can pass out, so you get some juice to get your sugar up because you feel tired and don't want to do anything. When I have a (sugar) high, I’m hyper.”

Collins injects himself with what is essentially lifesaving insulin when necessary.

“The first few times it hurt, but now I'm used to it,” said the friendly youngster.

Diamond Cruz, who was at the camp in support of her sister, Emerald, paints a T-shirt.
Sabine Rivera's design featured her name and also a reference to the type of diabetes she combats.

Earlier at the beginning of the week, Collins had joined a group of diabetic youngsters at a summer camp hosted by the Greater Marco Island YMCA, the Help a Diabetic Child Foundation and Core Health Partners.

It was the first camp of its kind at the Y, and Help a Diabetic Child Foundation founder Tami Balavage said the aim is to build on this initial camp innovation.

“It’s a non-profit organization with the goal of purchasing diabetes supplies and insulin for children and young adults because these lifesaving medical supplies are so expensive,” said Balavage.

She, like other adult volunteers at the camp has direct links to the disease, either through themselves or their children.

The volunteers were nurses Moira Roggia, Rene Couch and Monica Ramos, bolstered by Lely Elementary School teacher Pam Rivera.

Maximus Collins shows off a tag he wears to alert people to his needs in an emergency.

The camp, Balavage said, has many aspects that include education and also friendships.

“We want to create an atmosphere for the children to feel free and bond with others,” she said. “Some sleep away camps are extremely expensive, so the Y opened its doors and welcomed us in.”

Nurse Monica Ramos of Core Health Partners is diabetic herself, and is totally committed to the cause.

“The goal is to make kids think and feel that they’re normal,” she said. “One kid (on this day) was a bit nervous, but he soon settled in.”

“You become distraught with the number of children who have Type 1,” said Core Health Partners' vice president Paul Thein.

“The hope is to find a cure, but in the meantime there's a need to find a way and means for these children to live as normal a life as possible.”

Pam Rivera is mom to 11-year-old Sabine, one of the campers, and said she is indebted to the Help a Diabetic Child Foundation.

“Sabine was diagnosed on Jan. 27 last year, and was in the ICU for five days,” Rivera recalled.

“Before she could be released, we needed the deductible for her meds, which was $1,500. I didn't have that kind of money, so I was panicked. We were just learning about insulin, pens and cartridges. It was all new to us.

“Then, in comes Tami all of a sudden, and the Foundation was at Publix paying the deductible. You can't imagine the gratitude I have for these people, going out of their way to help diabetics because of their own stories. I'm eternally grateful. We couldn't have done it any other way.”

Camper Kailyn Antonioli prepares to shoot a hoop.

Summing up coping with the disease, and perhaps with a touch of humor, young Maximus Collins remarked:

“You can't, like, sneak out of bed in the middle of the night and go get a snack,” he said, smiling.

For more on the Greater Marco Family YMCA's wide variety of activities for youth and adults, visit or call 394-3144.

To get in touch with Balavage, e-mail her at or call 821-5051. The Foundation website is