In 2004, Monica Joyce, MS, RD, LDE, CDE, CPT, founded the not-for-profit Slam Dunk for Diabetes Basketball Camp and currently serves as its executive director. Slam Dunk for Diabetes is the only day-long basketball camp for children with or at risk for diabetes. It targets low-income, high-risk children and is free to all who attend. Check out our Q&A with Monica below!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your connection to diabetes.
I began working in diabetes 35 years ago with an endocrinologist long before we had the title and credentialing to become a diabetes educator. Needless to say, he was a pioneer. He had decided he needed some "help" in his office with education. He also felt that diet is the biggest challenge for people with diabetes. So, he hired a dietitian. The two-day-a-week job gradually became full time. We took the first exam together. I now work for his son and another endocrinologist. I continue to do all the diabetes education.
What gave you the idea to start basketball camps specifically for kids with diabetes?
My son played basketball. I love the game. Eleven years ago I was discussing opportunities for education with a new patient with a recent kidney transplant. She had type 1 diabetes and shared in our conversation that had she had consistent education over the years perhaps she would have avoided the complications. I had read about Chris Dudley's (ex NBA player) camp and loved the idea of combining diabetes education in a fun and meaningful environment. I began discussing my idea for a day camp in Chicago: one that would target low-income kids, knowing that many never attend a diabetes camp. I did not realize that I was talking to the wife of a board member and good friend of Jerry Reinsdorf (Chicago Bull's owner). She loved my idea and asked me to write a proposal. I did. The rest is history.
Can you give us a little history on how the camps started and how they’ve grown?
I first started with a camp in Chicago, which was very successful. I must thank all the educators and physicians in Chicago who referred their patients to a first-time camp. I had no template to follow. We were the first camp of this kind, so this was a leap of faith.
Word spread and we were asked to bring camps to other locations. This year we went to Memphis, Tennessee. We are now in five states and have had requests to come to several more. Our trip to Memphis demonstrated that we can take camp “on the road.” We have children coming from all over the Unites States and one summer a child even came from Belgrade, Serbia for camp.
What have you learned from your experience setting up this organization?
This is a team effort much like the game of basketball, in that without devoted and hard-working educators it wouldn't happen. I am grateful. I have also sadly learned that there are nowhere near enough fun events for children with diabetes. I am always surprised and saddened by the stories of loneliness and frustration with the disease parents share. Some parents say their child waits all year for camp.
Our age group is five to 18, so some children have been attending for the past 10 years since the first camp. Parents identify significant changes in their child’s behaviors and in their diabetes management, because of learning to do it in this type of environment. They are taught to “think on their feet” and these teaching moments on the sidelines have a lasting effect.
What’s your favorite thing about the camps?
Watching all the smiles and laughter even when the kids are called off the court to test their blood sugar. There is a level of enthusiasm and interest that I am pretty sure doesn't happen at home or school. They are testing with peers and know the information is important and relevant. I watch friendships develop and camaraderie grow among children from all socioeconomic backgrounds. At Slam Dunk diabetes levels the "playing field.”
Any plans for expanding the camps in the future?
We are talking to other educators about bringing diabetes camps to their area. We love the growth and the challenge that comes with it. Slam Dunk is a proven winner and, as one mom said years ago, “There is magic on the courts of Slam Dunk.”