Okoboji Summer Camp Offers Healing to Burn Victims
It's the season for summer camp and at Lake Okoboji more than 60 burn survivors from across the country are spending time together to heal the emotional wounds that come along with severe burns.
Memories of summer camp are ones you carry your whole life, and it's no different for the kids at Camp Foster.
"Every kid's a kid and by the middle of the week the kids don't know whether they have burns or whether they're a regular resident camp kid. They're all here having the same fun, having the same time," says Josh Carr, Camp Foster Executive Director.
It's the only camp in the United States that integrates burn survivors with kids who don't have burns.
"It's almost like another world here. It's just really cool, I like it. I just like how you feel here, so comfortable and relaxed," said Ryan Demott, a burn survivor.
Ryan was burned after he threw fuel into a fire pit at a friend's house one night.
"It exploded and I had flash burns and 3rd degree burns all over my body," says Ryan, who added the first thing that popped into his head was his mom.
"My mom's going to kill me. That's exactly what I said," he says.
Of course she didn't. Instead she brought him here, where he could meet other burn victims and begin his healing process.
The campers do all kinds of activities, like canoeing and volunteers say it helps these kids build confidence.
"This one week kind of rejuvenates them and frankly it just lets them know they're not alone. They're not the only person in the entire world, because sometimes they feel really alone. This is their family. They come back year after year because these other kids are their family," says Stacey Loen, President of the St. Florian Fire & Burn Foundation.
Zoie Evans was only 5 years old when a firework tipped over and fired, hitting her on the arm and chest. She was in the hospital for 8 days and endured several skin grafts.
"I had my arm like this, so it exploded right here so that's why I have burns right here, right here and right here. I was coughing up blood because it exploded on one of my lungs," Zoie says, recounting her injuries on camera.
It was a traumatic experience that left Zoie feeling alone.
"When I was 7 I came here. I had no clue what I was doing, I felt like I was the odd one out. I didn't know anyone until I found my cabin. It made me feel really nice and warm and welcoming," she says.
A camp that's a learning experience that helps these young survivors realize their scars don't define who they are.
Camp Foster is owned by the YMCA. It partners with St. Florian, a non-profit fire and burn foundation, to run the Miracle Burn Camp.
They depend on donations to fund the camp. A couple of the sponsors are the Sioux City Professional Firefighters Local #7 and Awesome Biker Nights. The firefighters not only raise money for the burn camp, they volunteer their time as well.
"Every burn survivor that I've had throughout the years has opened up and told their story and for them that's a very important part of their healing process for them to be able to come out and talk about it and realize that they're not going to get judged because a lot of it is accidents, things they knew they shouldn't have been doing but they did it anyway and I think a lot of times they think they're going to be judged for what they say and then they realize that coming and talking to us, that that doesn't happen," says Sioux City firefighter Derek Trobaugh.
Trobaugh has been volunteering for five years and is following in his father's footsteps. His dad is one of the firefighters who originally started the Miracle Burn Camp.
If you're interested in donating to the Miracle Burn Camp or you know someone who wants to attend, visit https://stflorianfireandburnfoundation.com/Miracle_Burn_Camp.html