Imagine a place where boys and girls with life threatening allergies are safe. A place where kids can go through a cafeteria line and safely pick everything they want to eat. Where days and nights are filled with fun indoor and outdoor activities.
A place where children can be independent, confident and carefree.
That place is Camp Blue Spruce. We have the privilege of talking to Louise Tippens, the mom who started Camp Blue Spruce because she didn’t want her child to miss out on summer camp just because of food allergies.
Louise shares her anxieties about raising a child with food allergies in this insightful interview. Many parents have these same worries. See how these anxieties can shift through the different stages of a child’s life. Louise opens up about her struggles and what she did to overcome them.
Meet Louise! She’s the one in the middle of the 4 happy campers!
YAC: Louise, how old was your son Riley when he was diagnosed with food allergies and what are those allergies?
Louise: Riley was a year old when he was diagnosed with food allergies, and we found out the hard way when he had a reaction to some rice cereal that had milk in it. It was really scary! When he was a baby, he was sensitive or allergic to a long list of things. But now he is allergic to seven things – dairy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish and beef.
YAC: What was the most difficult challenge in having a child with food allergies and how did you overcome that challenge?
Louise: The most difficult challenge was figuring out how to keep him safe while not putting him in a bubble. We worked really hard with our public school to create protocols that would allow him to participate in all activities and not isolate him. One of the best things that happened was when his soccer team decided to only serve “Riley-friendly” snacks! And it wasn’t hard. Fruits, vegetables and Oreos!!
YAC: How did you prepare Riley for handling his food allergies throughout the various stages of growing up?
Louise: It has been very interesting watching him mature and seeing how our worries regarding his food allergies have changed at each stage.
When he was in kindergarten, we worried a lot about the cafeteria and whether kindergartners could be less messy! We also worried about who would carry his safety kit and how the adults would hand it off to each other during the school day.
When he reached middle school, we worried about his escape plan in the event of a food fight in the lunchroom!
In high school he was self-sufficient, and we worried about what he would be exposed to at the theatre cast parties.
Now that we have just sent him to college, we worry about how he will manage grocery shopping and cooking for himself along with his extra-curricular activities and academics! I guess as a food-allergy parent, you always worry about something.
YAC: What was your motivation for starting Camp Blue Spruce?
Louise: I was a camper growing up. I was sent off for EIGHT weeks of camp each summer, and I loved it! I also worked at camps. Those experiences influenced me as a person.
When Riley was eight (ten years ago), I wanted him to have those same experiences, so I googled “Allergy Camp” and there was nothing! I started doing some research and talking to camps that were accommodating some kids with food allergies and camps that catered to kids with medical needs. I realized that I could start a camp.
I am fortunate to know a lot of smart people who have camping experience, and it has been an exciting journey to get Camp Blue Spruce up and running.
We just finished our 5th annual session, and it was a sight to behold! Our campers LOVE it there. They are free to eat and they jump into all the activities. We provide a safe place where kids who normally hang back because they are just not sure about the situation, are relaxed enough and form friendships and find a little bit more about who they truly are.
We also have the best camp food around!
Louise’s story is so inspiring. There’s so much anxiety around having food allergies and raising a child with food allergies. It’s normal to be nervous all the time.
Kids and those of us with food allergies, intolerances and special diets don’t have to live in a bubble, as Louise has proved.
We talked more with Louise about one of our favorite subjects…food.
None of the food served at Camp Blue Spruce contains any of the top eight allergens, including all gluten and sesame.
It’s possible to feed kids with food allergies and it doesn’t have to be hard. These kids can be included and we can keep them safe.
Camp Meals Rock!
Favorite meals during the week include a Thanksgiving turkey dinner, taco night, and a barbecue. Taco night is especially fun, because it’s about giving the children choices. They enjoy choosing the ingredients for their perfect tacos. We can’t forget decorating your own cupcakes and apple crisp. And year after year, the kids ask for the pumpkin whoopie pies.
With Halloween right around the corner, we thought next week’s post would be the perfect time for sharing these treats, perfect for that “safe” Halloween party. Be sure to join us next week for a “whoopie” party!
Thank you, Louise!
Please comment and let us know if Louise’s story resonated with you. Please visit her website at www.campbluespruce.org.