Camp Celebrate marks 30 years of service to burn survivors

Camp Celebrate, the flagship aftercare program of the N.C. Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals and the oldest pediatric burn survivor camp in the country, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary at Camp Kanata in Wake Forest.

Camp Celebrate marks 30 years of service to burn survivors click to enlarge Campers and a counselor prepare for a weekend of activities at the North Carolina Jaycees Burn Center's Camp Celebrate. (Photo submitted by Anita Fields.)

Camp Celebrate welcomes children and adolescent burn survivors ages 7 to 15 from across North Carolina and surrounding states, many of whom have been treated at the center, to a weekend gathering with peers who have shared similar experiences.

Anita Fields, manager for burn aftercare programs at the center, has been involved with Camp Celebrate for 25 years. She says programs like Camp Celebrate help meet the emotional and psychosocial needs of the patients as well as their families.

“The entire family is affected by the burn, and not just after the injury, but for the rest of their lives. We work with them to help them find a new normal,” she said.

On the afternoon of May 18, 51 campers met at Triangle Town Center in Raleigh and rode fire trucks to Camp Kanata. The annual Fire Truck Parade kicked off an entire weekend of swimming, camping, fishing, canoeing, arts and crafts, and a talent show.

Each year camp counselors, some who attended Camp Celebrate as a child, fire fighters, parents and other volunteers create a community of support that center employees say burn survivors need long term.

Bruce Cairns, professor of surgery and microbiology and immunology and medical director of the burn center, said there is research behind the recreation.

“Camp Celebrate is a focused therapeutic strategy,” he said. “There’s a method to how many counselors we have for each patient, how many patients are in each cabin, that camp is one weekend, but not one day or one week and that the activities include and provide peer support.”

The center’s various aftercare programs have evolved from Camp Celebrate, which began in 1982, soon after the center opened in 1981.

“It became clear there was a need for these children to come together. The first year it was just a few kids, but it grows each year, and the support grows as well,” Cairns said.

The North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center is like a hospital within a hospital, providing physical and occupational therapy, pastoral care, social work, pharmacotherapy and more, Cairns said. Beyond medical care, the center works to provide long-term psychological, emotional and social support. Aftercare programs now include opportunities for adults, reunions for people of all ages, regional events and family support.

“We’re learning more and more about the therapeutic necessity of understanding what it means to be a burn survivor,” Cairns said. “It’s about dealing with the physical scars, but also the psychological and social issues, how survivors integrate back into school or work and how they feel about themselves.”

Originally published in the University Gazette here.