For children who have experienced a serious burn, the emotional recovery from that burn can take just as long, if not longer, to heal than the actual wound itself.
Coastal Point photos • Shaun M. Lambert
Through legislation passed in 2009, the Delaware Burn Camp was established to, according to its website, “provide a safe and natural environment for the promotion of physical and emotional healing to young victims of burn injury. The mission of the Delaware Burn Camp is to assist young burn victims in their adjustment to injury through the provision of a safe, supportive environment and providing companionship through physical and social activities in a camp setting.”
“We were asked by the legislature to evaluate the need for a camp. It was a group of us that was pulled together — some from the healthcare arena, some from the fire arena, the fire marshal’s office was involved. We did an assessment and found the nearest camp was three to four hours away,” said Joanne Hutchinson, president of Delaware Burn Camp.
“As a parent with a burned child, to send a child three to four hours away to camp is asking quite a bit, but it benefits the child to have that opportunity. We decided it would benefit the state to have a burn camp and put it forth. The legislators agreed and made it law.
“So, we are, under the law, responsible to be here. We use these facilities. We have them one week every summer, and the kids, we provide transportation to and from camp. The fire departments actually assist us by providing the vans.”
Last week, for the ninth year, kids from across the state of Delaware ages 8 to 17 spent a week at Camp Barnes, enjoying a classic summer camp experience. Their common thread? All had experienced a burn that required medical attention.
“We always meet with every new camper. We interview them to make sure that they’re comfortable going away from home overnight. They’re not just here for a few hours — they’re here for the whole week. So, we try to interview the child and the parents and make sure everything is good. A few of our children come through social services and that’s OK. We’ll work with whatever organizations we need to.”
Hutchinson, who is also a nurse, said everyone who volunteers at the camp is an unpaid volunteer.
“We have no budget from the State — all of our monies are donations that we receive. The Burn Foundation in Pennsylvania gave us a substantial donation this year that will pay for most of camp this year. We’re very fortunate,” she said, adding that a number of healthcare professionals and fire-service personnel volunteer year after year.
The camp is always looking for donations, people to volunteer their time at camp during the week and, of course, campers.
“We are always looking for campers. We can’t get the word out that we’re here. I work in a hospital — we have people who work in the various ERs, but when a child comes in, you can’t go in and say, ‘I know you were burned, we have this camp…’ because it’s a violation of their rights. We can put fliers out, but we can’t do much more than that.
“We’re on the web. They don’t have to approach us early. Camp is always in August. If they call in the spring and are interested in having their child attend…”
Throughout the week, the kids get to enjoy fishing, laser tag, horseback riding, archery and more.
“Delaware Paddleboard Sports actually came here and brought the paddleboards. The instructor was here and taught them. It was amazing. They just loved it. There were no jellyfish out, so they could go out in the water with no problem.
“They went to Jungle Jim’s — that was a total donation by Jungle Jim’s to let the kids in free of charge.”
Barn Hill Preserve visited the camp with a kangaroo and sloth, which the campers were able to meet and hold. Various fire departments attended one evening, as they do every year, to hold a water battle — where the kids play games with the firehoses. The kids even had a crab feast of crabs they caught off the dock at Camp Barnes.
On their last full day of camp, they had a cardboard boat race in the pool with boats created by the campers.
“We try to come up with some different activities every year to keep their interests, to make sure they learn and experience new things. They’ve had a very busy week,” said Hutchinson.
“The kids have spent a number of hours working on their boats. The objective is to have it float from one end of the pool to the other, without sinking, with somebody in it. The one who makes out well with that will get a prize.”
“This is the boat I’m going to be sitting in… it’s a tight squeeze. I’m confident I’ll tie,” said 9-year-old Trip Black of Bear. “First, we thought of making a raft, but then we thought, it needs floatations. We also thought, ‘This thing needs walls, because it’s not just a race — it’s who can get across the driest.”
This was Black’s first year at camp. He had previously traveled to a burn camp more than four hours from his home.
Camp also gives the kids a unique opportunity to bond over what they’ve endured. The first night campers arrive, they share their personal stories of how they were burned.
“For our kids, it’s extremely important to have that availability,” said Hutchinson. “They can talk about their injuries. They can talk about their hopes and dreams for the future… It’s a time they have the realization that everyone is the same.”
“It sucks to be burned, obviously, but it’s cool to meet somebody who’s been through what you’ve been through and connect. Coming here for so long, you build relationships with a lot of people,” said 15-year-old Caileb Williams of Bear, who has attended camp all nine years.
“When they hear somebody got burned in a similar way that they did, it makes them feel like, ‘Oh, wow — we have something in common.’ It makes them feel like they’re not alone, like they’re not the only person this way. Some people have fourth-degree burns. I’m not the only person that’s burned for life like this.”
Williams, who wants to study marine biology when he goes to college, said he was burned when he was taking out hot tea and his brother scared him, and he accidentally spilled the tea on himself.
“There are other people who got burned because somebody turned around with a pot and poured hot water or oil or coffee on them. ‘Wow — we have something in common. I’m not the only person who’s been through this. They know what it’s like.’
“Sometimes it’s hard — the process of trying to come back from being burned. Once you talk about it a lot, it kind of makes you proud of your scars, because you know what you lived through, and nobody can take that away from you.”
Camper Elizabeth Daniels, 15, of Milford said she was encouraged to attend camp by her mom after being picked on at school because she was burned.
“She thought it would be good for me to meet other people who had gotten burned.”
Daniels, who wants to go to college for graphic design and literature, said her favorite part about camp is the first day, when everyone is reunited for the first time since the previous summer.
“It’s fun because of the people. Nearly everyone who comes has been here since the beginning.”
The camp has also given the kids the opportunity to experience things they would potentially not get to experience otherwise.
“We get to do a whole bunch of things — things that I don’t think I would’ve gotten to do elsewhere,” said Daniels, noting she probably wouldn’t paddleboard, horseback ride or get to hold a sloth if it weren’t for camp.
“The first time I came here… it was a lot of new experiences. I rode a horse for the first time. I did archery for the first time here. I just thought it was neat and awesome. I thought the people here were awesome, too, so I just kept coming back,” added Williams.
The Burn Camp is a family for all involved, said Williams, noting that everyone looks out for everyone.
“The people who are my age, we’re really close. And the kids who are younger than me, they look up to me, and I treat them like they’re little siblings. A lot of the counselors, I look up to them and talk to them about things. I just think it’s an awesome experience.”
Williams called attention to 25-year-old counselor-in-training Christopher, who at the age of 5 sustained severe burns after his home caught on fire and burning debris trapped him in his bed.
“Even though it’s sometimes hard for him to do certain things or get his message across, I still try to treat him just like everyone else, because he deserves that,” he said. “He’s still a person on the inside, and some people — they don’t see that… We’ll be talking about a whole bunch of things. He’ll follow me around, we sing together all the time… He’s like family to me.”
“He is our special person,” added Hutchinson of Christopher. “They look out for him and make sure he’s safe and gets to participate.”
“You’ll be welcomed,” said Daniels of kids who might be apprehensive of attending camp. “Everyone is friends and gets along. You’ll have a blast, and you’ll get to do things you never thought you’d do.”
For more information on the Delaware Burn Camp, to donate to the organization, or to recommend a child who would be eligible to participate, visit www.delawareburncamp.com. The organization also can also be found on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/pages/Delaware-Burn-Camp/106485009374461.