When 14-year-old twins Jessica and Mackenzie were diagnosed with celiac disease two years ago, they enthusiastically embraced their new gluten-free lifestyle after being plagued by mystery illnesses for months. Jessica and Mackenzie knew that celiac disease would change their lives forever, but they couldn’t accept missing out on summers at Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe.
“To miss out on Ogichi would have been such a loss for them,” explained the girls’ mother Jenni.
Determined to keep her daughters safe in a gluten-filled world, Jenni adopted a student mentality and researched everything she could about celiac disease. She cleared their home of everything that contained gluten and ensured it would be a total gluten-free zone for the girls.
Once the home was a safe haven, Jenni started working to make sure Jessica, Mackenzie and all girls with celiac disease or food allergies would never have to give up their summers at Camp Ogichi because of their dietary needs. Jenni was determined to not let the girls miss out the valuable life lessons taught at Camp Ogichi because of their new gluten-free lifestyles. She turned to Camp Ogichi’s Director Kathy Dix for help.
“When I told Kathy about the girls’ diagnoses, she didn’t even blink,” Jenni recalled. “She didn’t know exactly what gluten-free accommodations would look like for the girls, but she knew she could make it happen.”
Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe's mission is to empower the strong spirits of young women, like the ones pictured here, and their families.
And make it happen she did. Kathy had some knowledge of gluten-free needs, but she knew she needed more education. After doing her own research, Kathy discovered GREAT Schools, Colleges and Camps, an online gluten-free training program created by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA). She got in touch with NFCA’s Director of GREAT Kitchens, Beckee Moreland, and the two worked together to get Camp Ogichi ready to accommodate the girls.
By the doors opened for summer, Camp Ogichi was transformed into a new safe haven away from home, not just for Jessica and Mackenzie, but for other campers with special dietary accommodations. “I started out small,” Kathy explained. “The summer of 2012 was when we first started offering gluten-free options and focused on buying safe ingredients and preventing cross-contact. Now, Camp Ogichi maintains a 100% gluten-free kitchen, even making camping trips 100% gluten-free.”
Jenni says she is honored to be recognized as a hero for her help in making Camp Ogichi the gluten-free-friendly place it is today, but she credits Kathy for the transformation. “What Kathy and her staff did for my girls was nothing short of extraordinary. If you knew Kathy, though, you’d realize that extraordinary is her every day normal.”
For Kathy, keeping the girls safe is worth every ounce of extra effort and fellow campers have no issue eating gluten-free on the wilderness trips. “The girls will take Jessica and Mackenzie over gluten any day,” she said laughing.
Kathy encourages others to follow in Jenni’s footsteps and to not be afraid to ask questions and request accommodations. “I think the most important thing for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity to remember is that you don’t have to do this alone. There are organizations like NFCA and programs like GREAT Schools, Colleges and Camps that can help you navigate the new lifestyle. We can make a bigger impact if we work together.”
Take action today and help make your local restaurants, schools and other foodservice establishments celiac-safe.
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Includes a tear-off sheet to request restaurants receive training
Special Celiac Awareness Month Discount on GREAT Kitchens:
Restaurants who use the coupon code 50%GFDine14 will receive accredited GREAT Kitchens training at half price. Learn more here.
NFCA President and CEO Alice Bast shows what it's like for people with gluten-related disorders when dining out and how important eating without fear is for an improved quality of life.
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