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Learning Bravery at Burn Camp

An Imperial Beach firefighter talks about inspiring acts of courage seen while showing burn survivors a good time at Camp Beyond the Scars in Ramona.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but being scared sh**less and doing it anyways.” –John Wayne

During a public recognition, a 7-year-old camper voluntarily grabbed his younger sister’s hand and escorted her in front of the entire group. 

As they swayed side to side with nervousness, hand in hand, he announced that he was proud of his little sister for attending her first camp, for participating in all of the activities and for having fun. The crowd erupted with clapping and admiration as the two timidly walked back into their group lines.

Do you know anybody who has a fear of public speaking and being in the spotlight? These two siblings started off scared but faced their fears because they had been encouraged and empowered by the San Diego Burn Institute’s summer camp program, Camp Beyond the Scars, which was held in Ramona. More than 100 burn survivors, volunteer counselors and staff witnessed an inspiring act of courage that first day of camp.

Later in the week, the same two kids ballroom danced adorably to Frank Sinatra and then ended their talent show performance with the popular dance/song, “Teach Me How to Dougie.” I asked the six-year-old camper where she learned how to dance like that, and her response was, “I don’t know, I just made it up.” 

This was my second year as a volunteer camp counselor with the Burn Institute

Last year I was blessed to be a counselor to teenage girls. We braided hair, applied eye shadow and talked about boys. This year, four other counselors and I were charmed by the “itty bitty” girls, ages 5-8 years. 

Collectively, the staff and counselors had the privilege to expose some of the children to activities they had never tried before, such as skateboarding, swimming, jumping off the high dive in the pool, stand up paddling, kayaking, playing outdoor laser tag, archery (throwing darts for the younger ones), walking rope course 60-ft. up in the air, playing disk golf and learning how to Zumba dance. 

Some of the burn survivor campers had previous experience and helped the others out. For many of the campers (and counselors!), this was a first time exposure to several of these activities and nearly everybody tried everything.

It was a gift to share new experiences with new faces and a pleasure to see the growth and change of returning campers. 

Last year there was a teenage burn survivor who attended her first year of camp.

She was burnt from the waist down from boiling water as an infant. She was shy, introverted, curious and infinitely polite to everybody. She returned to camp this year, all smiles, and at any given time encouraged the new and younger teenage girl campers. 

At the talent show on the last evening of camp, this angel of a girl boosted the younger teenagers as they sang and danced in the spotlight to Bruno Mars’ “Marry You.” She embodied everything Camp Beyond the Scars stood for, being comfortable in your own skin, sharing your experiences to help others, building friendships, living life as a kid and simply having fun!

Summer camp was held at Oakbridge Camp in Ramona, July 30-Aug. 5. 

During the week-long camp, I witnessed children make new friendships, cry from homesickness (the itty bitty girls), learn to solve problems by communicating with each other and try new and scary things. 

There were more than 70 campers this year, ages 5-17. 

Regardless of how these young bodies and lives had been devastated from burn injuries and the painful rehabilitation process and healing, they were kids just being kids at Camp Beyond the Scars. For me, I saw firsthand scores of children walk through (or dance through) their fears and demonstrate uninhibited courage.

These experiences are immeasurable in terms of how much they elevate the kids’ confidence.

The Burn Institute is a nonprofit organization, established in 1972, and helped establish the area’s first and only Regional Burn Center. 

In addition to organizing and funding an annual summer camp, the Burn Institute reaches thousands of children and adults by providing resources for lifesaving fire and burn prevention education, funding treatment and rehabilitation not covered by medical insurance.

They also conduct burn survivor support programs that help victims and their families with the emotional, psychological, and physical life changes brought on by burn injuries.

On behalf of the Imperial Beach Firefighter Association, Local 4692 and the San Diego Burn Institute, on Saturday I will go to Washington, D.C.
to attend the 17th Annual IAFF Charitable Foundation International Burn Camp.

The International Burn Camp, sponsored by the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), will be attended by 50 different burn camp counselors and campers from across the U.S. and Canada Sept. 22-29.

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