Getting Back to Camp: A Long-Awaited Return to Camp Susquehanna
For 28 years, Burn Prevention Network’s (BPN) summer sleepaway camp, Camp Susquehanna, has helped young burn survivors ages seven to seventeen gain confidence, build relationships, and learn new life skills. Campers call the experience “life-changing” and with this year’s camp being the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, campers and volunteers alike were as excited as ever to return.
With everyone back in person for the first time in two years, it wasn’t clear how comfortable this year’s campers would be with one another socially or physically before the start of camp. To help campers feel more comfortable, BPN put together a name tag system where each camper received a green, yellow, and red nametag when they arrived.
“Everybody had green, yellow, and red name tags this year, and you could switch them out throughout the day. Green, meaning have at it, hug me all you want, I’m ready for all the love. Yellow meaning, oh, you can talk to me, but maybe just ask my permission before you hug me or touch me. And red meaning – you know what– I might need a little bit of space,” said BPN’s Associate Executive Director Jessica Banks.
This year, campers had the opportunity to participate in many exciting activities, including riding go-carts, ziplining, hockey, swimming, and more, based on the different age groups. Crisis canines from The National Crisis Response Canine organization were assigned to each age group to help comfort campers who might feel stressed or overwhelmed by the camp activities. There’s a significant emphasis on showing kindness, care, and support for one another at Camp Susquehanna. While there, campers learned new skills through age-appropriate activities in an encouraging environment alongside their peers and with guidance from their counselors.
“We have programming specifically with their developmental age group in mind. And they have choices, but we also have programming designed to push them out of their comfort zones like doing the high ropes course or climbing wall,” said Liz, a counselor at Camp Susquehanna. “Those are all experiences where kids will be afraid, but when they get a lot of encouragement from the volunteers and staff, they will often go further than they thought they could or further than they could last year because of all the love and support they have around them at camp. So camp is really about support on every level so that kids can really have fun.”
Camp Susquehanna is an entirely volunteer-run program and many counselors are past campers themselves. Those who have aged out of camp but are not yet old enough to participate as counselors can join the camp’s LIT (Leaders in Training) program, where they learn the necessary skills required to be a counselor once they become of age (22 years old). Despite being too old to attend as regular campers, the volunteers at Camp Susquehanna are passionate about the camp, the impact it has on them, and the impact of the work they do for their campers.
“Realizing how much of support I am to the campers makes me smile and happy. I have always wanted to be a constant in campers’ lives. A lot of things can occur in one’s life, but to be a person who is always at camp, smiling has been a goal of mine. This is the first time I’ve actually seen how big of an impact it is, and I’m more dead set than I’ve ever been not to miss a single camp moment,” said one of this year’s volunteers.
Camp Susquehanna was a hit and the four days went by so quickly. BPN is already planning for next year’s camp, but next year can’t come fast enough for volunteers and campers.