Summer camp brings about great memories for kids. However, for kids this week at the Timber-lee Camp in East Troy, their memories away from camp can make life difficult.
This week, more than child 50 burn victims will be participating in the annual Burn Camp. In its 23rd year, counselors help children see each other for who they are rather than the burns they've endured.
"For a lot of them, this is the first time they're ever meeting a burn survivor," said Jenna Jordan, Program Director. "They kind of feel isolated with their injury and experience. When they come here, they're able to get that off their chest and talk about their injury to one another. But once that's out of the way, it's all fun. It's all just being a kid and that's the most important thing."
Jordan has been coming to this camp since she was nine years old because her adoptive brother suffered severe burns all over his body at just six weeks old. She knows how important the camp has been to his development into adulthood.
"This was probably one of the only things that gave my brother social skills of any kind to speak of," Jordan said. "He was a shy kid and he lashed out when he knew he was being stared at."
"It's been difficult my entire life," Jeff Jordan said. "I always got picked on."
Jeff is no longer a camper. Instead, he serves as a camp counselor. His experience as a lifelong burn survivor helps other children get through their tough times.
"We have day to day lives like everyone else," Jeff said. "Kids go to school. Adults go to work. The last thing we want to do is be singled out for being different. Sadly, that happens a lot just because some people don't know any better. It's hard but you have to let it go the best you can."
Jordan said he had anger issues because of his burns. His parents abandoned him at the hospital after they learned of his injuries in a house fire. He was adopted by Jenna's parents.
While his burns are very visible, over his head, face and hands, others at the camp don't have visible scars. However, as dozens of children rocket themselves down a slip n slide, the suds cover up any sign of burns. So they look just like any of their counterparts outside of the Burn Camp for just a minute.
But no one here cares. They're all equals.
"Even if people have burns and scars, it doesn't change who they are as a person," said Therese Kalt, a third year camper. "It changes their life but it doesn't matter what they look like."
"We call it a 'framily'," Samantha Blaylock, a counselor and burn survivor said. "It's a family community. When you're in public everyday, it's hard to feel like you're not getting stared at because you are different. There is something different about you. Here, nobody has to worry about those things. We accept everyone as they are and it's about the experience and the true growth of the kids rather than being pointed out for what's different. They're recognized for who they are rather than their outward appearance."
Blaylock suffered her burns in a car fire just about three years ago. She would have been too old to attend as a camper but she became a counselor. She says it's something that saved her life.
"If it wasn't for my involvement with camp itself and the burn community, I don't know where I'd be," Blaylock said. "I'd probably be like some of these kids were before camp. They want to hide away from the world the whole time. Because of Burn Camp, it promotes a lot more positive lifestyle. It's a time for them to shine and really be who they are."
The campers are able to attend for free every year because of donations from groups, mostly fire departments, around the state. This year, they received a very generous $52,400 donation from the Fire & Iron Motorcycle Club.
The club is made of mostly retired or former firefighters from around the area. They also adopted a new member in Jeff Jordan who helped present the check. It's money like this which allows Jeff to still be here today.
"Sometimes in a bad enough injury, people wonder if they're doing a service to this person," Jenna Jordan said. "What kind of life are they going to live? Here is living proof, literally on each of those kids' faces, that it was worth it to save their lives. It was worth it to save their homes because they're here now. They're happy and living lives to the fullest."