Chicago Marathon for Dr. Thomas N. Pesola Memorial Scholarship

Chicago Marathon for Dr. Thomas N. Pesola Memorial Scholarship

From Kirstin Pesola McEachern

The Dr. Thomas N. Pesola Memorial Scholarship Fund provides scholarships for children with Type 1 diabetes to attend summer camp programs to learn how to manage their disease.

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We started the Dr. Thomas N. Pesola Memorial Scholarship fund after my dad, Tom Pesola, died in 2009 at age 59. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes his freshman year of high school, my dad received excellent diabetic care from his team at Boston’s Joslin Clinic despite living in poverty. He received scholarship money due to his economic situation and chronic disease, which he used to further his education and become a dentist.

The scholarship fund we started in his name initially offered college scholarships for diabetic students. The first two recipients also served as counselors at The Barton Center’s summer diabetes camps (Camp Joslin for boys and Clara Barton Camp for girls) and spoke so highly of the support and education the camps provided that we also started funding scholarships for campers who could not attend without financial aid.

This cause became dearer to our hearts after our son, Owen, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in December of 2013. Type 1 diabetes has no known cause or cure, and it is not an easy disease to have, especially for a child. He needs to check his blood sugar when he wakes up, before he goes to bed, and at every meal and snack, and then he takes insulin shots about as often as he checks to maintain an ideal blood sugar. In addition to the daily management, he contends with feeling like the only one. Owen is the only diabetic in his circle of friends and was the only diabetic at his school.

Knowing about the camps, we sent Owen to two programs at The Barton Center this year. The first was a “Caregiver’s Weekend” that he attended with my mother, sister, and brother-in-law in April (click here for more on this experience), and the second was a 5-day “Family Camp” that I accompanied him to, along with my daughter and mother-in-law. When we were in the car going home, he asked if he could go back the following week.

These programs are beneficial for all who attend. The education the non-diabetics (adults) receive helps us to understand the disease and its effects, and provides us with strategies and support from other family members dealing with diabetes.

The best part of the camp is that kids feel like having diabetes is normal. They do “regular” camp activities like tackling ropes courses, kayaking, and singing obnoxiously loud camp songs. But checking blood sugars and treating high and low numbers are also built into the day. Carb counts (the information you need about food in order to calculate insulin doses) are provided for every meal the camp prepares for you. The diabetic counselors wear their insulin pumps with pride and serve as role models for the kids like Owen who arrive feeling like they are the only diabetic on the planet and leave with lifelong diabetic friends who understand them (the counselors refer to their camp friends as "dia-besties"). That feeling alone is motivation for us to send him for as long as wants to go, for as many summers as he wants to go.

What’s frustrating, though, is that diabetes, even with health insurance, is not cheap. Nor is the camp. All meals, health care, and diabetic supplies are included, but to attend one week of overnight camp costs $1,200. Insurance does not cover any of it. It is not considered a tax-deductible medical expense, nor can parents write it off as dependent care because it is an overnight camp. Many campers travel from other states and countries because such camps do not exist where they live, so there is the additional expense of getting to Massachusetts.

We are grateful we can provide these experiences for Owen because we have seen proof with our scholarship recipients and the teenaged counselors we met that the camp is a game-changer in their lifelong diabetes care. We feel strongly that every child with Type 1 diabetes should have the opportunity to spend at least one week at camp.

Given our experiences with and commitment to The Barton Center camps, we are now exclusively dedicating the Dr. Thomas N. Pesola Memorial Scholarship fund to camp scholarships. We are running the Chicago Marathon in October (our first) to kickstart fundraising efforts for the fund’s new direction. Please support us in our efforts in whatever way you can!

- Kirstin & Brendan

As a 501(c)(3) fund, all donations to The Dr. Thomas N. Pesola Memorial Scholarship Fund are tax deductible.

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