Hero 24/7: Children's Burn Camp brings burn survivors together for summer fun
Deep in rural Connecticut, past acres of trees and brush, there is silence — until suddenly, cheers and chants from dozens of children fill the air.
Sleepaway camp is a staple of summer, but this one is unique. Each camper here is a child burn survivor.
Despite the challenges they have faced — and continue to face — their only concerns at the Arthur C. Luf Children's Burn Camp are swimming, ziplining, performing theater and making friends. More than 60 children attended this year.
On top of it all, the camp in Union, Conn. is entirely staffed by volunteers, including DC firefighters from the DC Firefighters Burn Foundation.
Every July, the campers, who range in age from 8 to 18 years old, stay for a week at no cost, with about 12 to 18 visiting from the DC area annually.
And though the campers come from all over the world, there is an unspoken understanding.
"When you're out in the world, sometimes you feel like other people are staring at you — here, they just don't care," said Yihan Machado, who lives in Frederick, Maryland, and was attending his fourth year at camp.
"I really like the whole idea about getting all the burn survivors all gathered in one place — everybody, they can feel comfortable," he said. "It's a great experience for everybody. All the activities, they can distract them."
The camp is now in its 27th year. The DC Firefighters Burn Foundation works with their counterparts in New York, Boston, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Portland, Maine to fund the week.
"We're giving kids ages 8 to 18 a chance to get away from school and other kids who are asking about their injuries — staring or giving them a hard time... and to be around other kids for a week and just be a kid," said Jason Woods, the president of the DC Firefighters Burn Foundation.
"No one sees each other's scars up here — or kids here think it's completely normal to see another kid with burn injuries. And it's a healthy conversation. They ask about what happened, and how they're dealing with things."
The firefighters are joined by nurses and physical therapists who also volunteer their time — sometimes, taking kitchen duties in order to cook 160 meals three times a day.
Many of the campers take the lesson of volunteering to heart.
"One of the cool things is we also have some burn survivors who were here as kids who come back later in life to be a counselor at the camp," Woods said.
This year, five DC firefighters joined the group, with one acting as a chaperone from takeoff at Reagan National Airport to touchdown.
"It's important for us to make sure that if firefighters risk their life to save these individuals, that the individuals they save have a quality of life after they get out of the hospital," Woods said.
The camp is just one of many endeavors from the DC Firefighters Burn Foundation.
In the coming weeks, we'll take a closer look at the other projects they're involved in to improve the quality of life for both adult and child burn survivors.