Going away to summer camp is a given in my family. My husband knows, my children know, my extended family all know about camp because they all pitch in some way to help during that week that I’ll be away from home…Yes ME. I’m the camper in this family. Technically I’m a camp counselor, but in my heart I’m a kid again when I pull up to the gates at Dry Gulch U.S.A in Pryor, Oklahoma. This jaw-dropping campground is usually home to a church camp all summer. But for one brilliant week in August, it’s home to the Oklahoma Firefighters’ Burn Camp for children who’ve suffered a serious burn injury.
Besides all the ridiculous fun and immaturity I’ve indulged in over the last 14 years at camp, I have to own up to a few things: First, I was somewhere around age 23 the first year I went as a volunteer. As a burn survivor, I knew I needed to be a part of this camp. Besides that, a HUGE incentive to go was the fact that much of the camp is manned by Oklahoma firefighters. HELL-O! Don’t ask me twice.
The second thing I need to own up to is this: It’s REALLY hard. Some years I didn’t feel like going. Some years I struggled physically while I was there with some ailment or another and I wanted to be at home. Almost every year I’ve had an emotional meltdown at camp, sometimes public and mostly private. Once I got married and had kids, I sometimes feel like I’m giving them the short end of the stick since I basically go on vacation for a week to go fishing on Lake Hudson and ride the banana boat and do the ropes course and ride horses and…you get the idea. This year I got to ride in an airplane as a special treat, plus I won Female Counselor of the Year. Maybe the award said “Female Counselor of the Week,” but whatever.
And here’s another thing: my motives for going are selfish, mostly. My injury happened when I was 2, when I pulled a crockpot off the kitchen counter. I wasn’t expected to survive. My scars cover 50% of my body, but they are in places that I can cover up or disguise if I want, so during school I got away with concealing it. Many burn survivors don’t have this option. Even with my experiences, I seriously don’t know the depth of strength it requires to face people who stare and make assumptions…EVERY DAY. But I’m learning. So I go to camp. I pull my hair back and wear tank tops and no make up. I bare it all. I wear it like some expensive and fabulous tattoo that says, “Look what I lived through.”
I go to camp for one main reason: I didn’t know any other burn survivors when I was growing up. I didn’t know if I’d get married and have a family. Even though my mother invested a lot of time and wisdom coaching me and encouraging me, I still wasn’t sure if I’d be attractive to someone someday. This camp is for kids and teenagers who are feeling the same thing. They are dealing with loads of crap in their lives, and some still have surgeries and complications to go through. I can take a week out of my life to show them that baring it all is not only okay, it’s necessary. It’s the key to being honest with the world about who they are, and that’s when love comes along. I’m living proof.
The selfish part is that I get to be someone that kids are looking up to. And that feels really, really great. I like to think I’m like a teacher, or one of those really cool aunts who knows all about being cool and stuff. Since I first went to camp, I’ve seen LOTS of campers grow up and do grown up things like go to college or get married or have kids. I’m super proud of all of them, my little camp babies.
It just so happens that I will miss camp this year. (I’m gonna miss it SO BAD! Meltdowns and all!) Because I’ve got a new little baby boy of my own who seems to think that breast milk is available at his every whim. And when the campers say, “Where’s Jammie? Oh, she had another baby?” I hope they’ll be thinking, If that crazy lady can do it, I can too.
If you know of a child who would benefit from attending this camp, please contact Scotty Stokes via the Facebook page, or look me up and I will hook you up! Children attend free of charge, and donations are always appreciated.
Jammie Kern is a wife and mother of three and an author of YA fiction. In 2012, at the age of almost 37, she earned a degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Oklahoma. She currently daydreams about volunteering more, gardening successfully, and getting more than ninety minutes of sleep at a time. You can read more atwww.jammiekern.com