Burn Camp helps kids heal and have fun

Last week, a dozen kids from Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania spent a week at Camp Barnes, as part of the 5th Annual Delaware Burn Camp.

Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: Campers enjoy a water battle against area fire companies during the 5th Annual Delaware Burn Camp. Burn victims from Delaware and nearby states enjoyed a wide variety of activities during the weeklong camp. Below, the object of the water battle is to pushCoastal Point • R. Chris Clark: Campers enjoy a water battle against area fire companies during the 5th Annual Delaware Burn Camp. Burn victims from Delaware and nearby states enjoyed a wide variety of activities during the weeklong camp. Below, the object of the water battle is to push the ball across the rope using the water hoses.“This is our fifth year, and we’re celebrating this year,” said Joanne Hutchison, president of the camp. “The camp came into being when a family had a child burned and the nearest camp was four hours away. People are reticent to send their children that far away, especially if they’re younger.”

“It was a success,” said John Lattomus, vice president of the camp. “Every year is a success, in my opinion.”

Hutchison said the camp is open to kids ages 6 to 18 who have sustained burn injuries that required treatment by a physician.

“We thought it would behoove us to have a camp for the Delaware area,” she explained.

Due to HIPPA laws, it can be difficult for the camp staff to find out the names of children who have been burned, and so the board relies heavily on others to help spread the word.

“We put literature out there in the ERs. We put literature in the pediatricians’ offices. The fire marshal’s office tries to keep us in the loop and recommends that people contact us.”

During their week at camp, the kids enjoy traditional summer camp activities, such as canoeing, swimming, crabbing and archery.

“We have horses here, and every morning they have chores to do for the horses. They have to feed them, water them. If they do their chores, they get coupons. They also got coupons at the carnival and field day, and we have prizes inside they can get for certain number of coupons,” explained Hutchison.

Coastal Point • R. Chris ClarkCoastal Point • R. Chris Clark“Some of them had never seen a live crab before they came here,” she noted. “We do live crabbing down on the pier, and now they know what to look for. And we cook them up Fridays and have a big crab feast.”

“The kids absolutely love to go crabbing,” added Lattomus. “They were out canoeing. Luckily, the jellyfish were not out there this year.”

Camper Adam, 13, said swimming is his favorite part of camp and that he can hardly wait to attend every year.

“It’s fun. We do a lot of activities and stuff,” he said. “And I get to see my friends.”

Hutchison, who is also a nurse at Kent General Hospital, said that many of the camp’s volunteers are nurses or people who serve the community in other ways.

“There are a lot of us here,” she said. “They all came for one day and loved it, and now stay for the whole week. We are very fortunate.”

“They were looking for lifeguards and trying to get an idea of what the requirements would be,” recalled Paul Dorey of the Boys and Girls Clubs in Seaford and Laurel, of how he got involved. “I was aquatic director there at the time, and I just ended up coming out here and have been here every year since.”

Many members from area fire companies attend the camp on and off throughout the week, and even put on a fire hose display on Thursday evening. Ladies’ auxiliary groups from Sussex County fire companies volunteered their time to make the food for the kids for the week.

Dorey praised the staff and volunteers at the camp, saying it would not be what it is without their dedication.

“I’ve seen a lot of camps… As far as staff goes, they’re willing to give up their time to stay out here… The true passion and the caring for these kids is just out of this world. Every year, that grows.”

Hutchison said that the children’s stories are hard to hear but help the kids relate to each other and realize they aren’t alone in their struggles.

“Joey — our oldest — just turned 15. He celebrated it on Wednesday, and we had a birthday party for him,” she said. “He was burned when his friends squirted lighter fluid on him and lit him up. He got in with a bad crowd and…”

“We have one camper whose mother works up in the Kent County fire marshal’s office, and he burned his hands when he was 3. He’s 6 now — old enough to come this year — so she made sure he came. He’s one of our youngest this year.”

Adam, who lives in Greenwood, has attended the camp for four of the five years it has been in existence, and he recalled how he was burned as an infant.

“When I was a baby, I used to play in my mom’s kitchen. The coffeepot was like, right next to the pots. I used to bang the pots and pans and stuff. I was an active little boy. One day, I pulled a chord out, and the whole coffeepot fell on me, and I burned my arm and my neck,” he said, pulling up his shirtsleeve.

One-time camper Chris, now 21, has aged out of the camp; however, a special title was created for him so he could continue to attend camp after he aged out.

“Chris is our oldest camper. He is mentally challenged. When he was 5, his bedroom caught on fire and the roof caved in on him. The fire service got him out, and he spent time at Crozer, where his parents never came for him. They kind of abandoned him. After a year, Social Services found a foster home for him. He’s been with the same lady, who was actually a nursing assistant at Crozer, ever since.

“He is too old to be a camper, but we have what we call a ‘counselor-in-training,’ and Chris will tell you he is a counselor-in-training. The kids are great with him.”

Hutchison said the camp gives the children a change to have a normal summer camp experience with others who have gone through similar experiences.

“Our first night each year, we’ll have a roundtable discussion, and the kids will talk about how they were burned, what caused it and what all they’ve been through. It’s an exercise for them to heal — emotionally, physically, socially — when they realize they’re not the only ones who have sustained these injuries, or been through these things. They start talking to each other: ‘I had to do this.’ ‘Did you have to do this?’ It helps them a lot.”

A number of the camp’s counselors are also burn survivors, which Hutchison said helps the children see a future where their burn doesn’t define them.

“We have counselors here who are burn survivors, so they can relate to what the kids are going through on any given day. This proves to them that they can do anything they want. We have one who is a police officer, one who is a teacher, one who is a secretary. They show the kids that they can do anything they want, despite being burned, if they put their minds to it. It’s a learning opportunity, as well as a healing opportunity.”

Along with the plethora of activities, campers put on a talent show to culminate the end of the week.

“Me and Caleb are going to do sumo wrestling. We did it last year,” said Adam, who also wrestles in school.

“They were pretty good,” recalled Hutchison. “They’re both tall and skinny. I’m not sure how they work it out, but they do.”

Hutchison said that the camp is not supported by the government and survives on generous donations from the community.

“It has been phenomenal,” she said. “Today is our day to say ‘thank you’ to those who support us, because we only survive because of donations from different organizations and people. We are totally dependent upon donations; we get no money from grants or the government.”

“The Delaware Burn Camp provides an opportunity for kids of all ages to meet, share experiences and heal together,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, who has been an avid supporter of the camp. “This truly unique experience is one that these children will hold on to for the rest of their lives.”

Burn Camp is completely free for the children to attend, which Hutchison said is something the camp organizers never plan on changing.

“The campers don’t have to pay. It’s completely free to the families. They just come and, hopefully, have fun and learn. That’s what it’s all about. Most of these kids, their parents don’t have the wherewithal to send a child to camp for a week. Camps can cost anywhere from $400 to $600 a week.”

Hutchison said that, in the future, they hope to expand the camp and serve more children.

“We’d like to grow our population, as far as the number of children.”

“We’re already preparing for next year,” added Lattomus. “They can register now. Any new family, we go out and interview them and tell them what to expect.”

At the end of the day, those involved said they keep coming back to camp for the kids.

“It has been amazing. They are just wonderful, wonderful kids. When Adam and Caleb came back this year it was like, ‘No! You couldn’t have grown that much!’ Caleb grew 7.5 inches this year, and Adam grew 6.5 inches. Nova, she’s getting to a point where she’s almost a teenager and starting to blossom a bit. We’re watching them grow up and grow wiser.”

“It’s the kids. You see the same kids and you get to see how they progress and grow up. It’s interesting, because the majority of them have been here since the beginning,” added Dorey. “A prime example is a camper named Mason. His grandfather said he packed his suitcase two weeks ago in anticipation.

“And you see them open up. Lizzie, when she first got here, she was very shy, stuck to one staff member. Now she’s playing with all the kids. It’s really neat to watch them. They’ve really opened up here. It’s pretty neat.”

For more information on the Delaware Burn Camp, 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.