Sustaining any kind of burn can be extremely traumatic. In 2009, through state legislation the Delaware Burn Camp was created to provide a safe and natural environment for the promotion of physical and emotional healing to young victims of burn injuries.
Its mission is simple: “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.”
This year, the camp was held at Camp Barnes near Bethany Beach on Aug. 11-16, and 10 campers were able to participate in various activities, including archery, crabbing and swimming.
“It’s a learning opportunity for them because they can realize that, ‘Yes, I was burned and have had a little bit of an issue. Maybe I’m a little handicapped. But I can still do anything I want to,’” said Joanne Hutchison, president of the camp.
“That’s our goal. We want them to recover emotionally and physically. Some of the burns aren’t as severe as the others, but that doesn’t matter. A burn is a burn. If you’ve got scars, you’re different from somebody else, and that’s difficult to get over sometimes.”
The annual summer camp held at Camp Barnes is free of charge to any child between the ages of 6 and 18 years who has sustained a serious burn injury.
Hutchison said all the kids who attended this year have participated in the camp before, and all have a different story about how they were burned.
“I have two little girls — one who accidentally pulled a cup of scalding stuff on her and got her chest and down one arm; the other ran into her brother and got splashed down her neck and down the other arm.
“We have one little boy whose stepmother was aggravated — he was two and a half years old and wet his pants, and she put him in a tub of scalding water and he sustained burns. She spent some time in jail… We have one young man whose friends squirted him down with lighter fluid and lit him up.
“We have lots of different reasons for the burns. Most children sustained scald burns. One little boy, he was playing outside and accidentally fell into a fire pit with his hands out and burned his hands. There’s all different reasons, all different incidents,” she explained.
No matter the cause of each child’s injury, Hutchison said the camp is there to show that they can overcome their trauma.
“We try to make sure they don’t mind talking about it. We don’t press it, but we want them to understand, regardless of what happened, you can go on.”
Joe, a 16-year-old camper from Wilmington, said the camp’s atmosphere is what has kept him coming back for the past five years.
“It’s a good environment for kids who have been through a lot. It’s like a vacation that we get to go on and look forward to every year,” he said. “I come back every year because I have fun. I’ve gotten to know everyone so well. We’ve just become a big family.”
Burned at the age of 11, Joe said he would recommend the camp to other kids who have experienced a burn trauma.
“Everyone is really accepting. This is a judge-free environment.”
Elizabeth, 12, a Magnolia resident, said the camp is very fun, and she hopes more kids will attend in the future.
“You get to meet people that went through the same thing as you, with their burns. It’s nice to go here and have people the same as you, because when I was in elementary, I wore a cover-up on my arm because people would pick on me because of my arm,” she said, adding that she tells her doctors to tell other kids who have been burned about the camp. “I could show kids how I got burned, how my experience was and how people could prevent it from happening ever again.”
Elizabeth said that, although she was only 3 years old when she was burned, she remembers the incident.
“I was 3. I remember everything. Boiling rice poured on me. I have discoloration on my arm, leg and stomach, too,” she said.
“I do too,” said Christopher, who was 5 when he sustained his burn, after his home caught on fire.
Now 22-years-old, Christopher, who aged out of camper status four years ago, still attends camp as a junior counselor.
“I’ve been here every year,” he said.
During camp, Christopher was quick to educate about the importance of staying away from scalding water and that “stop, drop, and roll” is the appropriate measure to take if your clothes catch on fire.
“With me, I didn’t do it,” he said, adding, “Never ever, ever play with hot water.”
Although the camp is specifically for those who have endured burns, it is designed to be like any other summer camp.
“The funnest part is to be here and to be able to do stuff that we can’t do outside of camp,” said 14-year-old Nova from Rising Sun, adding that she would be interested in doing archery as an extracurricular activity, if it was available to her. “You just have to have eye coordination, and basically just aim the arrow at the target.”
Horseback riding and hayrides, provided by horses Romeo, Johnny Cash and Midge, are a popular part of camp.
“If the horses are here, there are certain chores we have to do for the horses. So we have to be there by 7:30 [a.m.]. Then we have to be at the dining hall at 8 for breakfast,” said Nova. “Romeo and Johnny Cash have been here since the beginning.”
On Aug. 15, the camp held a carnival, complete with games, snowcones, a popcorn machine and photo booth.
“It’s just like if they were at a real carnival,” said Hutchison. “In the games, they win tickets and we have prizes they can trade their tickets in for.”
Pranks are also a part of the camp — with a rivalry between the boys and the girls.
“We sprayed them with silly string,” said Elizabeth of a prank against the boys one year.
“That was not funny,” said 13-year-old Haiti of Bridgeville, who’s been attending camp for six years. “One year, we put frogs in their bathroom.”
John Lattomus, who helped create the camp and currently serves as its vice president, said the camp is funded entirely through donations and wouldn’t be a reality without the support of various organizations and individuals in the community.
“Dairy Queen up in Millsboro donates all the products for sundaes. We call it ‘DQ Night.’ They give us the toppings and everything. They’ve been doing that every year,” he said. Other donations include T-shirts given to each camper by Bethany Beach Surf Shop.
“People really go out of their way for this camp,” said Joe.
“It’s cool that people do that for us,” added Elizabeth.
To support the campers through their weeklong retreat, 12 volunteers and six staff members also attended the camp.
“We’re more than one-on-one. They enjoy it. We have a lot of kids who volunteer out of college. They seem to like it,” said Lattomus.
Buck Dougherty, deputy chief of the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company, returned to the camp for his second summer and said it’s difficult for the camp administrators to reach out to burn victims, due to healthcare privacy laws.
“I think the biggest problem that we face is the kids are all the same. The word hasn’t gotten out about the camp. There are very few people who know it’s here,” he said, noting that many of the camp’s administrators work in the medical field and are therefore restricted by HIPPA. “For me as deputy chief, my job is not in jeopardy if I tell someone about burn camp. It would be nice to get more kids and more parents involved, and whatever else it takes to help grow this place.”
Middletown resident Stacie Kuhn, 27, has volunteered at the camp for four years, after hearing about it while working at Kent General Hospital.
“The first year, I could only come every other day. But then I made sure I took off for the whole time every year after,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun. They’re really good kids.”
Isabelle Huovinen, a recent Indian River High School graduate, volunteered for the first time this summer with her parents.
“I didn’t really do much volunteer work before. Now that I know what it entails, it’s so rewarding,” she said, definitively stating that she’ll be returning next year.
“This is awesome that we’re involved in this; we’re honored that they let us volunteer,” said her father, Steve, who’s a City of Wilmington firefighter and also aiming to return to the camp in the future. “I hope to, if they let us come back.”
John Tartufo, owner of the Country Side Café on Route 54, said volunteering at the camp is a rewarding experience, and also a very emotional one.
“They have the kids, one time before they go home, all sit around and tell their story about how they were burned. The first year I was here and listened to that, I bawled on the way home,” he said.
“It’s traumatic stories,” said Sandy Bennett, who volunteers with her husband, Wayne. Both are also members of the Roxana Volunteer Fire Company. “They are some awesome kids. We’ve learned more from them than anything we’ve taught them.”
Campers and staff alike agreed that the camp isn’t just a place where the kids go for a week every summer — it’s a family reunion.
“I like to do everything with the kids. We’ve gotten to know them because it’s the same kids coming back every year,” said Kuhn. “I look forward coming and seeing what they’ve been up to in the last year, and seeing them participate in all the things they don’t get to do unless they’re here. It’s just fun to watch them grow up.”
“It’s a great way to spend your time. At first when I came here, I didn’t know any of the kids, and instantly they love you. Everyone is just so inspirational with their stories,” added Isabelle Huovinen. “It’s literally like a big family. I’ll definitely be back next year.”
The camp also literally brought a family together — campers Nova and Elizabeth found out they were cousins.
“We didn’t know we were cousins until the first year. We didn’t know until our parents on Family Night came over and remembered each other,” said Nova with a laugh.
In future years, administrators hope to grow the camp to serve children in the larger Delmarva area who have been burned and make a difference in their lives.
“It’s a good support system for people who have been burned,” he said. “I know when I got burned I went through a lot of emotional issues. The first few months after I got burned was rough. I have really bad PTSD from my event. When I came here, seeing other kids and counselors who have gone through the same thing, it gives you that sense that you’re still normal — that you’re not that different from everyone.”
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.