Over this past summer in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a celebration for guests at the Great Lakes Burn Camp showed the huge amount of camaraderie shared by victims of severe burns and their families. This was the 17th annual camp, which lasts six days and is set alongside a beautiful lake.
Mike Longenecker, camp director and one of about 90 staff members and counselors overseeing this year's 52 campers, said that it is very moving to see the joy this burn camp gives so many kids. "You've got to remember that these are kids with burn (scars) and they're at an age where peers put image and looks under a microscope," he said. "Burn camp gives these kids a week where they can look any way they want without having to worry [about exposing their scars], and be themselves." Even with a skin graft to repair damaged skin, burn victims rarely look the same as before they were burned, so the psychological effects of burns are almost as serious as the physical effects.
Longenecker said he's missed wedding anniversaries and his wife's birthdays to run the burn camp, but he adds that she knew when they married that the annual camp visit means so much to him.
A carnival-like atmosphere on the first morning included food and attractions that set the tone for the campers, who are between the ages of 5 and 17 years. This burn camp starts with parade of cars, motorcycles and trucks. In fact, forty-one fire trucks from 38 departments in a six-county region gave the campers a ride to the lake. There were also 175 motorcyclists, who paid a fee to participate, with proceeds going toward the $600-per-person expense to send a child to camp. Also, there was a series of ambulances. In all the parade was so large that it took almost seven minutes to pass by each intersection. Hundreds of spectators lined the route to wave to the volunteers and campers.
Lauren Chisholm and Hannah Summersett, two burn victims, chanted and used hand gestures to relay their excitement to the crowd as they passed by. "I was going bonkers all week waiting for this day to get here," shouted Summersett during the parade. Chisholm added that she starts her countdown to the August camp on January 1 of every year, and "today, the number of days is finally at zero."
One parade watcher, Windee Wagner, said her son attends a camp for young people who have diabetes, so she knows the bond that the camp experience creates. "We've been coming to this parade for five years, and it always brings tears to my eyes. You see the smiles on their faces and it just makes you want to reach out and hug them and tell them to always be strong," she said. "I like that my son and daughter can see that just because these children are burn victims, it doesn't mean they're not kids, too. They're no different."
Harold Garnaat, a 63-year-old local resident, dyed his hair three colors to help raise funds for Great Lakes Burn Camp. He said the publicity generated from accepting that dare was well worth it. "A guy I knew from years ago flagged me over and asked me for a pen. Then he wrote a check for $1,000 to the camp and told me to keep up the good work," Garnaat said.
For more information on children's burn camps, click here. And If you or someone you know suffers a burn injury of any type, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, NY so that they can determine whether another party is legally liable for your injuries, and if you have a solid legal case.