Summer camp usually means friendship bracelets, basketball, horseback riding, arts and crafts. But at the Mid-Atlantic Burn Camp, fun has its own set of challenges.
Learning to shoot a basketball without fingers. Weaving a friendship bracelet with hands traumatized by scalding years ago.
For the 50 or so survivors of severe burns who attend the camp in Keezletown, Va., there is a special pleasure beside the regular summer fun: the joy of community. And a batch of new books to read.
Julia Cardozo, a prosecutor with the Montgomery County State Attorney’s Office, is hosting a book drive to benefit the campers. She started volunteering at the camp seven years ago, after learning about it from her sister, a doctor, who also volunteers there. The camp draws in volunteers of all stripes — burn survivors, doctors, firefighters, teachers, lawyers, police officers and others, she said.
“Seeing kids overcome these challenges — they really surprise themselves when they can do something they didn’t expect themselves to be able to do,” she said.
“They are just my heroes,” she said.
This is the third year she has collected books for the campers. She started the book drive after noticing that some campers had difficulty reading the lyrics of songs the campers would sing together after mealtimes.
She knows she can’t teach reading in just a week, but she thought, “Maybe if we gave them books which they associated with camp, and fun, they might read more at home.”
This year, she has collected about 200 books so far, she said.
After learning about the book drive, Montgomery County, the state attorney’s office and the county’s sheriff’s office agreed to put a donation box in the main entrance of Montgomery County Circuit Court.
“Oftentimes, these young people who survive these horrific burns are teased and ostracized,” said Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office.
“This gives them a chance to come back to camp with other kids similarly situated. ... We’re hoping by this little effort ... we can hopefully bring a better sense of healing and normalcy to these children’s lives,” he said.
Books can be donated Wednesday though Friday at the Montgomery County Judicial Center at 50 Maryland Ave. in Rockville.
Alternatively, books or donations can be sent to the camp’s office at 5430 Harris Farm Lane, Clarksville, Md. 21029.
“Burns are generally considered one of the most horrible things that can happen to you,” said Linda French, a physical therapist at Howard County General Hospital, who started the camp 25 years ago with Tonas Kalil.
Burns last “months and months,” and require surgeries that leave extensive scarring, reminding burn victims and others of the injury, French said.
“Being in middle school, high school, it’s tough. Everything is based on appearance. They just have a higher hurdle to go over than the average kid, and we’re there to support them,” she said.
She started the camp after visiting a similar one in Colorado in 1988.
Anwar Glasgow, 15, of Poolesville said he has attended the camp for more than five years.
When he was 9 months old, some family members were brewing a pot of tea and the water accidentally spilled on him, he said.
He doesn’t remember it, but it left him with scars on his thighs and stomach.
“The flesh was still young and developing, so it really damaged my skin,” he said.
Occasionally, people would notice the scarring during soccer games as he sat by the sidelines, with his shorts pulled up past his knees.
“Dude, what’s up with your skin?” they’d ask, he said.
He remembers the first burn camp he went to — spilling out of the bus that took them from Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., to find a throng of camp counselors, clapping, welcoming them to camp.
“You feel overwhelmed and shy ... [but] it also makes you feel so welcome. These people don’t even know you, but are so quick to accept and welcome you,” he said.
Even though the camp lasts just a week every summer, Anwar left that year with a sense of belonging and newfound pride, he said.
The questions about his burns had never bothered him much, he said, but after camp, they became “almost a mark of pride.”
“I felt proud of explaining it. ... This is a part of me, and I’m proud of it,” he said.
Antonio Caldwell, 21, of Greenbelt is volunteering as a camp counselor this year. He said he has been going or working there for the last 14 years.
He also got burned by scalding water, when he was just 4 years old. The water burned his hands so badly, a doctor had to cut his fingers apart, and he had a year of surgeries, he said.
“I felt like I was the only person who had a burn and no one else understood,” he said.
At burn camp, he said, he found a “joyful time,” where “everyone accepts you with open arms.”
It’s part of the reason he volunteers there now.
“I just wanted to give back to the kids, show that people understand, that they’re not the only ones. ... There are other people out there who’ve had burns and are affected.”