WALWORTH — An exclusive camp in Walworth County is celebrating it’s 25th year. It’s only for certain types of boys and girls, and you wouldn’t wish the qualifying characteristic on anyone. The annual event at Camp Timber-lee near East Troy is just for young burn survivors. The hospital is where they’ve recovered from their physical wounds; it’s Burn Camp where their healing continues.
“They say to us that it's important to them they know they're not alone.” Melissa Kersten is a nurse practitioner at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Regional Burn Center. She is also the volunteer Burn Camp Director. “I think to know there's someone else out there that is connected with you and to be able to have such a powerful relationship with someone on a much different level after trauma like that is powerful.”
Kersten said it was care-givers, firefighters, and first responders who started the camp, and who staff it on a volunteer basis. It’s healing not only for the young campers, but for them as well. “We take care of people. The firefighters drop them off in the emergency room and they don't always know what happened, and that can be hard. Knowing that someone survived and is living a good quality of life is really rewarding.”
One of the pillars of Burn Camp is to provide a safe place, for children of a tragic, yet shared experience. Kersten remembers the first time little Mia Camarillo visited camp and saw other boys and girls with scars. “’He has, his hands look just like mine,’ and that was one of those moments of, this makes a difference for everyone,” Kersten explained.
Mia was badly burned in a grease spill at her grandma’s house five years ago. “Four adults were home, and it just goes to show you how easily things can happen,” her grandma, Julie Schley, recalled of that day. Plagued by guilt, she still attends support group sessions at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s all these years later.
It was that connection where Schley first learned of Burn Camp. It’s that Camp that brings so much joy to Mia. “To just have, I feel, like a week where there's no, kind of like, the scars are almost invisible, to everyone,” Schley said.
Mia most looks forward to arts and crafts, and reports next year she’ll be old enough to do horseback riding. She remembers little from the injury itself that burned her arms, body and legs. She’s also too young to know now, how much Burn Camp has helped her heal, and grow.
“She's a very good friend, and she's very kind, and I attribute a lot of those leadership qualities to the things that she witnesses at camp,” Schley said.
Burn Camp is free for campers to attend. It is supported by countless volunteers and fundraising efforts from the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin Charitable Foundation. They welcome volunteers and contributions. For more information on Burn Camp and how to get involved, click here.