Tag Archives: volunteering

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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What gluten means to me…mathematically

Once upon a time, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. Though I wound up in publishing instead (less public speaking), I hung onto some shreds of the dream. Most recently I’m turning them to—possibly—good use as a volunteer SAT tutor.

If you’ve ever wondered whether anything is harder than going gluten-free, teaching is. Apart from being confronted with your lack of any sort of coolness recognized by a high school junior, you also become intimately aware of every gap and shortcoming in your own training and memory. It’s humbling to flip through the tutor manual and realize you’ll need to reteach yourself the math before you can teach it to anyone else.

The manual, donated to the tutoring program by Kaplan, tells me to present the material in a way the kids can relate to. The same tactic comes in handy when reeducating myself. There’s a surprising amount of parallels between the SATs and gluten-free life. For example, “If you don’t know, skip it, because you’re only penalized for getting it wrong” is true of both unfamiliar food and unfamiliar SAT questions.

This also works for understanding specific concepts. Here, for example, is a thorough reintroduction to “systems of equations,” using gluten. If high school is a ways behind you, and your math score, like mine, was <800, you too may appreciate the refresher.

The problem: Solve the system of equations for gluten.

math2

To start, pick either equation, like this one:

math3

Next, subtract gluten from all sides (you got this) in order to isolate celiac (aww).

math4

So a celiac is an unhappy person without gluten. Sounds about right. Plug this definition into the other equation in place of celiac, like so:

math5

Clean it up…

math6

…and isolate gluten. Subtract the unhappiness from both sides…

math7

…and divide by –2 for the answer.

math8

Looks like gluten equals divided feelings, mostly negative. True enough, but we’re not quite through. Since the opposite of happy is unhappy, we can change the negative smiley into a frown…

math9

…add them up…

math9a

…and cancel the twos for the final answer:

math9b

There you have it. Gluten equals unhappiness. I’d say we don’t even have to check that answer.

Don’t worry, I’m not teaching the kids using gluten metaphors (talk about uncool!). Have you ever tried teaching or tutoring? Did/do you like it? How’s my math? And do you agree with the equations’ conclusion?

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Not enough celiac awareness? I’ve got plenty.

So we’ve come to Celiac Awareness Month. I’m excited for all of the special features and extra blogging everyone will be doing this month, and maybe I’ll even get out to an event or two in the real world. But for myself, I’m mostly going to keep doing as I’ve been doing. Because I’m already celiac-aware. Celiac-hyperaware, you might say. If you split open my skull to check, my brain might look something like this:

celiac_aware_brain

Okay, maybe with a little less space for spatial awareness. But you get the picture.

Point is, I already devote a lot of gray matter every day to thinking about, talking about, writing about, obsessing about celiac disease. If I could only remove tiny hunks of my brain tissue and implant them in other people’s brains to repopulate their awarenesses, then they could think a bit more about it, I could think a bit less about it (and more about my novel), and we’d have ourselves a healthy celiac awareness ecosystem. Like a fecal transplant!

In a small way, that’s what I’m trying to do with this blog. (The awareness transplant, not the fecal kind.) Although, let’s be honest here, most of you are pretty darn celiac-aware already.

When I learned I had celiac disease, I started from a point of heightened awareness. I’d been researching food-related illnesses for some time—call it a hobby—and in my professional life I worked (and still do) with gluten-free cookbooks. I also reaped the benefits of living in a place and time that is in fact more celiac-aware (or at least gluten-aware) than ever before.

But I definitely became more aware once I had it myself. I started this blog, I saw celiac symptoms in everyone I knew, I began musing on grandiose ideas like hosting gluten-free speed-dating events or providing gluten- and allergy-free birthday cakes to kids whose parents can’t afford them. So far, these ideas have foundered on the shoals of logistics. If you live in New York and want to talk about any of them, please get in touch!

Although I’m enjoying this blog and being a part of the smart, supportive, friendly community here on the internet, I’ve struggled with this. Given that I have celiac disease and I think a lot about celiac disease, I feel vulnerable to the claim it’s “self-indulgence” more than “celiac awareness” that fills my brain. I feel guilty.

For example, when I wrote about the connection between hunger and celiac disease, I looked into how one could donate gluten-free food. But then I thought, where was I before I knew I had celiac disease? And even setting that aside, where have I been in general? The hurricane that wiped out huge portions of the New York metro area happened months ago, and no doubt the best time to begin contributing would have been in October.

Plus, hunger was of course a fact long before that, a systemic problem affecting an enormous population nearby me and worldwide. I knew that well before the fall of 2012. Why haven’t I been better about contributing to the solution? Why has it taken me having a problem to want to help others? And why is the idea of donating Rice Chex so much more appealing to me than the idea of donating money to a general fund for the hungry?

Then I get cynical. I wonder, does every celiac disease advocate have celiac disease? Are all food allergy advocates people who have, or whose family members have, food allergies? Are all antiracism activists all people who have experienced racism? Are all GLBTQ activists GLBTQ? Are all feminist activists women?

Is all activism selfish?

Are we all too wrapped up in ourselves to get involved in helping people whose concerns are foreign to us? And is a disabled person who spends his life advocating for disability awareness less noble than an abled person who does it?

I believe the answer to all of these is no. There are people who advocate for others almost reflexively, whether or not there’s a personal connection. There are entire industries built around nonprofits and public service that allow many, many people to work or volunteer in support of awareness or advocacy campaigns of all kinds.

And furthermore, I don’t think activism is really cheapened by being beneficial to its advocates. If someone spends a lifetime advocating for the rights and happiness of a population to which he happens to belong, is that so bad? Plenty of other people are part of the same population, and not doing much to help it or any other group.

A life of service is a good life. Sacrifice and selflessness can support a life of service—but only to a point. If you feel unconnected to your work, you’re more susceptible to burnout. And if you have the impulse to help but allow yourself to be stymied by regret that you didn’t help enough before, or aren’t helping enough people, or aren’t helping for the right reasons, then you won’t end up being helpful at all.

Part of any awareness campaign must be an awareness of just how many things there are to be aware of. There are good and bad causes, selfish and selfless concerns competing for everyone’s attention at every moment. By focusing our energy on one concern, we’re setting aside others.

I aspire to be aware of suffering, injustice, and inequality, broadly speaking. I hope that my daily words and actions demonstrate this, and when they don’t, I hope to be called on it so I can do better. I hope that as my life evolves and settles, I find the time and the energy to help more people more than I do now. And in the meantime, I’ll strive to be self-aware about my own divided awareness.

That said, bring on the Bob’s Red Mill giveaways. I’m ready.

Happy Celiac Awareness Month, folks.

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