Last week, several Bayhealth employees spent their vacations volunteering at the Delaware Burn Camp, held at Camp Barnes in Frankford, DE. Serving children ages 6-18 who have sustained serious burn injuries, the camp fosters a sense of community and hope that keeps Bayhealth staff coming back year after year.
Joanne Hutchison, MSN, BSN, RN, MBA, CNML, Bayhealth Cancer Nurse Navigator, was one of the founders of the Delaware Burn Camp and currently serves as President of the Board. In 2008, Hutchison and other interested parties began exploring the possibility of a burn camp in Delaware, as the closest programs at the time were in Maryland and Virginia.
“We felt strongly that a camp for children with burns was very necessary in our area,” Hutchison explained. “These kids can make great strides in an environment of psychological healing.”
Trained medical professionals are ideal volunteer counselors for the camp, because many participating children need assistance bathing or caring for their burns. Injuries such as traumatic burns often leave emotional wounds that last long after the skin has healed, so a clinician’s additional training and experience with this area are helpful.
The camp opened for its first summer in 2009 with six campers and will welcome 14 this summer. Several campers from the original group are planning to return as counselors-in-training when they are old enough.
A week at the Delaware Burn Camp involves all the activities typically associated with summer camp: swimming, archery, crafts, team-building games, and nature walks. Camp Barnes’ location on Millers Creek, a tributary of Assawoman Bay, also offers opportunities for fishing, crabbing, and boat rides.
A cherished activity for many children at the Delaware Burn Camp is riding horses and caring for these animals. Emilie Phillips-Courtney, RN, staff nurse on 4A at Bayhealth Kent General, travels to Frankford each year two horses, Romeo and Johnny Cash.
“Horses are gentle, intuitive creatures. The therapeutic benefits of caring for a horse are without number. I find kids at the horse pasture very early in the morning, feeding, brushing, and just talking to the horses,” Phillips-Courtney said.
Phillips-Courtney has been involved with the Burn Camp since its inception and plans to return next year.
“Horses calm and soothe children,” she explained. “Kids may not be able to explain what they are getting from the experience of caring for a horse, but you can see a difference in them. They are able to listen. They are able to communicate better.”
Vance Dougherty, RN, BSN, who currently serves as Treasurer on the Delaware Burn Camp’s Board of Directors, also has seen firsthand the difference a week can make for a child. Because this trip is often the first time children have been in close proximity with similarly-affected peers, it can be an eye-opening experience.
“Kids with burns feel different from other kids. They may have body image issues or physical challenges resulting from their burns. Burn Camp gives them a chance to feel like everyone else and learn that they can have normal, healthy relationships with their peers and with adults,” Dougherty said.
Commonplace summer pastimes such as swimming can be intimidating for children with burns, as they fear being judged for visible signs of their burn injuries. They may have complex relationships with adults due to past traumas.
Dougherty and his colleagues at the Burn Camp work tirelessly to ensure that this safe environment remains available for children who need it.
As one of the camp’s directors, Dougherty assists with organizing leadership meetings, interviewing prospective campers, and managing external relations. Building awareness in the Delmarva region and increasing community involvement are two key initiatives.
During the off-season, Dougherty and the other directors help coordinate fundraisers such as the Burgers & Beans Contest in Milford and a wrestling tournament featuring exhibitions by former professional wrestlers. Because the Delaware Burn Camp is entirely supported by private donations, fundraising is a constant priority.
Community groups and local companies are key to sustaining the camp. Lowe’s supplies craft materials, and the Ladies Auxiliaries of Georgetown, Del Mar, Milton, Roxanna, and Slaughter Beach provide meals throughout the week.
“Everyone here at Burn Camp shares a love for these children and a desire to empower them to be successful,” said Drake Nichols, RN, Staff Nurse in Bayhealth Kent General’s Emergency Department. “People who know about the camp want to help keep the camp running. This is a way for us to pass on the blessings of our own lives.”
As a counselor, Nichols shares his passion for fishing and crabbing. He finds that learning these skills distracts campers from their burns and enables them to relax.
Other Bayhealth employees who volunteer at the camp include Staci Kuhn, RN; Dawn Proietto; and Janice Cahall, BSN, RN, CNOR.
Debbie Eberly, BSN, RN, CEN, CNML, Bayhealth Trauma Program Manager, sums up why she keeps coming back to the Delaware Burn Camp: “It re-instills my faith in human nature. When these kids let me into their lives, and trust me, it is the best feeling.”
To learn more about the Delaware Burn Camp, visit delawareburncamp.com.