WARETOWN, NJ – For more than a decade, Colleen Nauta, RN has encouraged select students and staff to sign up for Camp Nejeda in Stillwater, New Jersey. This past summer, Nauta decided it was her turn to enjoy the camp experience.  Nauta can’t say enough about the positive interactions she saw during just that one week.

Nauta is the school nurse for the Frederic A. Priff Elementary School in the Township of Ocean School District in Ocean County. There’s a commonality in the children Nauta recommends to Camp Nejeda. They all have type 1 diabetes.

“The camp is just for children aged 5-16 who have diabetes,” explained Nauta. “The counselors themselves are also diabetic.”

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Other Camp Nejeda staff members are not necessarily diabetic. While Nauta herself is not, it’s more than her nursing background that gave her some insight when she worked at the camp for a week. Nauta also brought a touch of home to some local children.

Two former Priff students were at Camp Nejeda during the same week. Sixth grader Gianna Morro and Nauta made their camp debut together.  Seventh grader Jeffrey Sommer, Jr. was excited to join other campers for his fifth summer.

 “When you have a child that has type 1 diabetes, there are many days that your child is in the nurse’s office more than class,” shared Jeffrey’s mother, Nicole Sommer.  “Nurse Nauta treats all of the children as though they are her own.”

Ironically, no one planned for the three to be at the camp at the same time. Nauta made a concerted effort to give Jeffrey and Gianna their own time and space. “I tried not to speak to them,” she smiled. “We would give one another up or down hand signals to show if it was a good or a bad day.”

In its mission statement, Camp Nejeta says its purpose is to “enhance the lives of people with type 1 diabetes and their families through education, empowerment, camaraderie, supportive programs, and fun.” Nauta’s experience suggests they’ve accomplished their goals.

“The camp helps children with diabetes realize they’re not alone,” said Nauta. “It encourages them to do things they wouldn’t normally do and develop peer relationships.”

Sharing experiences works in a few ways. Camp counselors help students take their blood sugar and become more independent. The campers also learn from one another. “For example, maybe they’ll put their diabetic pod in a different place than they did before,” Nauta explained.

The focus isn’t all on diabetes, although parents find comfort that the staff includes endocrinologists, a resident doctor, and a number of nurses.  Campers participate in different sports. They also take advantage of water activities, such as swimming, paddleboats and fishing. Some even go ziplining.

As far as the two Waretown students, they knew when to look for the friendly face from home. If they needed to go the Heath Center, they asked for Nurse Nauta.  “They needed that TLC from me,” shared Nauta.

A resident of Manahawkin, Colleen Nauta is a Ph.D. candidate for Nursing Education and Leadership from Kean University. Prior to coming to Ocean County, Nauta worked as a school nurse in the Linden School District.

Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at sfaughnan@tapinto.net.