By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Northborough – According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million people in the United States have diabetes. Among those diagnosed, about?1 in every 400 is a child or adolescent under the age of 20.
At the age of six, after experiencing rapid weight loss and excessive thirst and hunger, Caren Mulcunry was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes – a lifelong chronic autoimmune disease with no cure.
Life with diabetes was a lonely road for Mulcunry who said that she was the only student with the disease in her school. For two weeks each summer, though, the Barton Center for Diabetes Education, Inc., in North Oxford offered Mulcunry an environment where life with diabetes was the norm.
The Barton Center is one of the largest, independent residential camping and educational programs in the country dedicated to children who live with diabetes and the people who care for them. According to their mission statement, they aim to “improve the lives of children with insulin-dependent diabetes through education, recreation, and support programs which inspire and empower.”
More than 2,000 children and their families participate in their programs annually. The Barton Center is a nonprofit 501c3 organization governed by a volunteer Board of Trustees.
Mulcunry attended the Barton Center every summer until she graduated from college. There, she was given the tools necessary to live a fuller, healthier life.
“I learned that having diabetes made some things in life a little more difficult, but not impossible,” she said. “I watched my counselors turn from a “mom replacement” while I was away from home, to true role models that I still look up to in my adult life. I learned that if I took care of myself and my diabetes, that I could do anything.”
While Mulcunry says that she sometimes wonders what it would be like to not have had diabetes for most of her life, she can’t imagine not having her Barton family.
“To me, Barton means “life, well lived.” I can’t imagine having had to deal with the rigorous ins and outs of having diabetes for the past 30 years without Barton. I feel immediately like I’ve come home when I step foot on the camp property,” she said.
“Now, when I see the next generation of campers playing the same tag games, I feel immense gratitude for not only the opportunity that I had to attend their programs, but that they still continue to empower kids and families with Type 1 diabetes to live their best life. I will continue to try and give back to Barton for the rest of my life for the confidence, knowledge and great friends that I’ve been so blessed to have acquired at camp. It's my special piece of the world, a little slice of heaven.”
Mulcunry, who said that it has always been her dream to have her name listed on the camp letterhead, currently serves on the Board of Trustees. She works with the programming staff looking for new and exciting ways for kids to enjoy their time at camp, while also learning about their diabetes. She also volunteers at weekend programs held by the Barton Center and recently rode in the American Diabetes Association's Tour de Cure with some of her camp friends.
While having diabetes has been a struggle at times for Mulcunry, she does not hesitate to see the silver lining.
“I believe that having type 1 diabetes has made be a better person with a true love and belief of the beauty of life. It's made me a stronger, more confident, empathetic and persistent person,” Mulcunry said.?”My best friends in my life are my friends from my years at camp. Us “Barton girls” have an eternal bond that is truly something special. I cannot imagine who I would be, or where life would have taken me if I had not developed diabetes so many years ago.”
Mulcunry and her husband Ryan reside in Northborough with their two children, Lucy Clara, 5, and James Ryan, 2.
To learn more about The Barton Center for Diabetes Education, Inc., visit http://bartoncenter.org.