Forget gluten-free Girl Scout cookies. Gluten-free summer camp is where it’s at.

It’s Girl Scout cookie season, and everyone I follow on Twitter is buzzing about the newest addition: the chocolate chip shortbread cookie. Why all the excitement over such an uncharacteristically boringly named cookie? Well, usually at this time, we GF folks only get to salivate and whine (I did both last year). This year, we get a cookie of our own. That’s right, it’s gluten-free!

Now, you wouldn’t know it from everyone I follow on Twitter, but Girl Scouts do activities all year, not just sell cookies. I can’t recall ever doing anything particularly impressive in pursuit of a badge as a Brownie, but many Girl Scouts do pretty cool stuff, from creating science clubs for girls to building houses for bats.

Courtesy of Sabrina DeVos, Girl Scout

Photo courtesy of Sabrina DeVos

Another very cool thing that one Girl Scout—sixteen-year-old Sabrina DeVos—is doing is putting together a new gluten-free summer camp in Ithaca, New York.

Celiac Strong Camp is Sabrina’s Girl Scouts Gold Award project and will be held annually, starting this year from August 1st through 3rd, 2014. Celiac Strong Camp is currently open to registration for both campers (boys and girls, age 8 to 15) and volunteers.

I learned about the camp through Carrie Balthasar of Basic Batters, and when I reached out to Sabrina, she kindly agreed to do an interview.

Read on to learn more about this brand-new camp, dream of summer, and feel jealous that you didn’t do anything close to this cool as an eleventh grader.

I never went to summer camp. What’s so great about it?

Summer camp is where you can be free, make friends, and have sleepovers every night. I absolutely love summer camp and recommend it to anyone. 

Why do gluten-free kids need a camp of their own?

When I go to summer camps that don’t have gluten free food for everyone it is kind of awkward. I feel like people think I’m getting special treatment because I’m eating something different. And at our camp, there will be no risk of cross contamination, many opportunities to try new food, and everyone will be eating the same thing. It won’t make kids feel different and will let them be worry free.

Tell me about your own summer camp experience. (Do you go to a specifically gluten-free camp, and if so, which one?)

I go to Camp Celiac all the way in RI, an eight-hour drive, and have been going since I was eight years old. I have made lifelong friendships and always look forward to the food, and having something in common with everyone that goes there (celiac). These people understand me and what I’ve gone through.

Can you briefly explain what a Girl Scouts “Gold Award” is, for those of us who didn’t make it past Brownies? 

There are levels of awards that girl scouts strive to achieve. First is the Bronze award, then Silver, and then Gold. This is the final step in girl scouts, and it is an honor to achieve it, and will always be. There are many steps to do it. You have to have an interview over the phone with council so they can approve it before you begin, and in order for it to be approved it has to be something unique that helps your community. It also has to be recurring; therefore Celiac Strong will be annual! And then they have to approve it again at the end to make sure everything went the way it was supposed to.

You’ve been gluten-free for almost as long as you’ve been a Girl Scout. Which is the more important part of your identity?

They’re both very big parts of my life, but I think celiac is more important, not that Girl Scouts isn’t important to me, it very much is. I just think it’s kind of my duty to tell everyone what celiac is and inform everyone as much as I can about it because not a lot of people know about it, at least they didn’t use to. A lot more people are educated now. But I always talk about it at school and have no problem answering people’s questions.

What sort of activities can kids expect to do at camp? Will there be gluten-free S’Mores?

It wouldn’t be camp without S’Mores. I’m planning on having a cooking demonstration happen at the camp, there will be swimming, camp fires, fishing, maybe archery, and I’m still planning out the rest. But expect fun times!

Boy Scouts toasting marshmallows

Wrong kind of Scouts, but aren’t they adorable?
Photo © vastateparkstaff | Flickr

What kind of food will the camp serve, and who will make it? Will you be able to accommodate vegetarian/vegan kids? (That’s a subject close to my own heart!)

Well, first and foremost, the food will be gluten free. We also are going to accommodate lactose intolerance. We’re still working on the menu. The menu will be approved by a nutritionist. My mom and her “team” are going to be making the food, and ask anyone who knows my mom, she is a great gluten free cook. Sadly this year we won’t be accommodating vegetarian/vegan kids.

Will you be accepting campers who don’t usually eat gluten-free?

I’m accepting kids who have the diet first. The camp is for them, if we have a lot of open spots and people registered who aren’t gluten free, then yes, but they will be eating gluten free with the rest of us.☺

You’re currently accepting volunteers. What will they be responsible for, and how many are you hiring? Can you describe your ideal volunteer?

I need volunteers for different things. I mostly need some to be counselors to watch the kids. I also need a volunteer to be a certified lifeguard, and a certified nurse (I already have one, but two would be fine too). The volunteers won’t need to pay to go to the camp, will need to have a background check, go through training, and will not be paid. I only need about 10 for counselors.

How can people or companies interested in acting as sponsors get in touch with you? 

They can email me at sabrina40154@yahoo.com. There is a spot on my website too for sponsors if they wish to contact me there. I’m looking for food donations and demonstrations/program activities.

Cayuga Lake, canoe

A probably-more-tranquil-than-any-camp-would-ever-be view of Cayuga Lake (which the camp is near). Boy, wouldn’t summer be nice right about now?
Photo © Katrina Koger | Flickr

Have you run into any tricky logistics so far in organizing the camp? What’s your advice to other young women (and men) interested in organizing something like this in their community?

It’s difficult to get the word out, we don’t have many kids registered right now and I really need to figure out a way for people to find out about the camp. Also, getting food donations is a bit tricky, but I’m sure it will be OK as it gets closer to August. My advice is to not put off reaching out to people and organizing things, you have no time to procrastinate.

Are you excited about the new gluten-free Girl Scout cookie? (Had to ask.) What’s your favorite kind of gluten-free cookie?

I’m very excited about the new cookie. Since we don’t have them where I live yet, I am having my friend from camp who is a Girl Scout mail me some. She says they are very good. My favorite cookie, that is a verrryyy hard question. I’d have to say Lucy’s chocolate chip cookies. They are really good.

Favorite campfire song?

I know so many campfire songs, it’s a little ridiculous. My favorite is probably the Pizza Man song.

What’s next for you?

I plan to graduate high school next year then off to college for music.


So, how cool is that? Kudos to Sabrina for organizing what I’m sure will be a great success. If I had kids, I’d definitely sign them up.

In the meantime, I’m seriously considering volunteering. After all, I missed out on camp as a kid. I’d never even heard of the Pizza Man song! (I just looked it up on YouTube and I’m glad I did. Hope it’s about gluten-free pizza, though.)

Tell me about your camp experiences, favorite camp songs and activities, and S’Mores-inspired GF recipes in the comments. If you have questions for Sabrina about Celiac Strong Camp, go ahead and contact her at her website—and spread the word to anyone you think might want to join. By the way, I didn’t mean it about forgetting the cookies—I know I can’t.

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10 thoughts on “Forget gluten-free Girl Scout cookies. Gluten-free summer camp is where it’s at.

  1. Sabrina rocks and so do you, Molly! Gf camp sounds awesome. If my kid ever starts sleeping I’ll def sending her there. We have a few years to work out our sleep issues, fortunately. Yay for Girl Scouts and for a gf cookie!
    -Dana (who never made it past brownie status either)

  2. Laurie C says:

    Great interview! What an amazing girl and what a great project!

  3. Wow! Kids today are amazing. I never would have considered such an ambitious project when I was that age. Thanks for sharing Sabrina’s accomplishment with us.

  4. I’m blessed to have this caring young ambitious daughter. Thank you Molly for sharing Sabrina’s story, and I hope you come volunteer at camp, even for a day…. she would love to get a chance to meet you!

    • Molly says:

      Thanks for your comment, Chris! You are very lucky to have Sabrina as a daughter! I will definitely get in touch about volunteering; I have been meaning to ever since this interview. I would really love to go and knowing that it doesn’t have to be all three days is helpful, since it’d be tough to get the Friday off from work.

  5. We will be having a public ceremony for Sabrina as she did earn her Gold Award and will have it presented to her on November 22, 2014 at 2:45 pm. Please feel free to come to the ceremony – hopefully it will motivate young girls to join and stay in Girl Scouts as the program allows them to have their dreams come true with some hard work.

    https://www.facebook.com/events/350231708476992/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming
    cmalycha@yahoo.com

    • Molly says:

      Hi Christina! I would love to come to the ceremony but don’t think I’ll be able to, since I don’t have a car, which makes it tough to get around out of NYC. But congratulations to Sabrina for earning her Gold Award—you must both be super proud!

      Also, sorry I wasn’t able to help out in person this year in the end, but if the camp continues over the years I would love to contribute later.

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