Summer Camp with a Cause

An interview with Nancy Williams

Nancy Williams, VP of Marketing at IBS, has worked with Hoosier Burn Camp (HBC) since 2003.  Throughout her time with HBC, she has volunteered several times at the organization’s annual week long summer sleep away camp. The camp takes place the week of Memorial Day at Camp Tecumseh in Battle Ground, Indiana.

Founded in 1997 by the Indiana State Fire Marshal and Riley Hospital for Children as a part of the International Association of Burn Camps, Hoosier Burn Camp provides burn survivors with a safe and supportive community where they can “learn to deal with the obvious physical scars and the less visible psychological trauma they often suffer as a result of burn-related injuries.” The only qualifications for campers are that they are between the ages of 8 and 18 and have been hospitalized for a severe burn—their admission to the camp is paid for by generous donations and money obtained through fundraising done by the camp, as well as local fire and police departments.

We sat down with Nancy to learn a bit about what HBC means to her as a volunteer and, more importantly, what it means to the campers.

How did you find out about Hoosier Burn Camp?

I learned about the organization through a friend, who worked in the pediatric burn unit of a hospital in Indiana. Not having a medical background myself, I wasn’t confident that I would be a great fit for HBC.  But the moment I met the kids, my concerns disappeared, and I’ve been part of the volunteer staff ever since. It is a truly fantastic organization and one of the most well-run non-profits. Everyone involved is completely committed to providing these kids a safe space and a better future.

How many kids attend the camp each year?

The number changes every year, but usually around 70 kids attend. There is a very high return rate, and it’s not uncommon to see kids attend from the time that they’re 8 until they’re 18, depending on when they were hospitalized. It’s so rewarding to watch them grow over the years, and a privilege to be a part of their lives. We have 58 volunteer staff members that run the camp, ranging from counselor to medical staff to logistical people who ensure the day-to-day runs smoothly.

What does a typical day look like?

In many ways, Hoosier Burn Camp is your typical summer camp. We provide campers with activities they can choose from, like rock climbing, arts & crafts, glass blowing, fishing, canoeing, swimming, horseback riding, and archery. Then, we bring everyone together for group games (the goofier the better), and get them involved in songs and campfire skits. We also have a Visitor’s Day during the week where the police and fire departments come. Many of these officers, paramedics, and firefighters have worked personally with the kids. We are so grateful for their involvement.

One day during the week, HBC rents out a local waterpark. There’s a perceived societal judgment the campers face regarding their scars, and some kids feel self-conscious about being in a setting where their scars are so visible. For some of them, going to the waterpark with HBC is the only time they don’t feel self-conscious. We hope that this waterpark outing provides the kids with an opportunity to realize their scars are nothing to feel ashamed of.

HBC does more than just this one week of sleepaway camp, right?

Correct, the name is a bit of a misnomer—the organization operates year-round, and has monthly weekend activities for the kids. The activities vary, but we usually do amusement park and boating trips, sports events or other short weekend gatherings. I’ve led skiing trips with the organization, and for our kids in wheelchairs, we provide adaptive equipment so they can ski too.  Whatever the activity, we really focus on giving them time with each other and a supportive environment. Additionally, HBC provides scholarships to burn survivors who want to pursue higher education, and we have a program for teens that focuses on leadership development.

What does the camp hope the kids will take away from the experience?

Although their physical health has stabilized by the time they are able to attend camp, the psychological trauma that accompanies being a burn survivor takes much longer to heal. We hope to help with that, and provide them with a supportive community of their peers who can help as well. Oftentimes, the campers are the only people in their worlds who look like they do, so it is very mentally healing for them to have a community of kids their age who share similar experiences. We want to give the campers a chance to just be kids, and hope they leave camp feeling confident and empowered. They look forward to camp all year and are always so excited to return. 

What is your role at the camp?

I lead the Teen Leadership Program with two other volunteer staff. During the summer camp, older campers (17 and 18 year-olds) can choose to participate in teambuilding activities and challenges that strengthen their teamwork and communication skills. They learn how to appreciate their own strengths as well as others’, and we help them shift into young adult roles that take on more responsibility and accountability. It can be a really challenging transition! It’s our hope that those involved in the leadership program return to Hoosier Burn Camp as volunteers, but our goal is much bigger than that—many of the kids lack positive role models in their lives, or don’t live in success-focused communities. We want to provide that for them, and help them develop the skills they need as a young person to succeed for the rest of their lives.

How has volunteering with these kids affected you? What have you learned from them?

I am continually amazed at their resilience and bravery. It is so humbling to work with them—that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve taken away from my volunteer experience. It is so humbling to see these living examples of strength and fortitude and positivity. They’re willing to confront things that are going on in their lives head-on—things that would cause many people to just crumble. They deal with unimaginable pain, and the internal strength they have is incredible.

I have learned countless lessons from them, but perhaps the most practical one to share is one they’re most vocal about: oftentimes, they want you to ask about their scars, which can take a lot of courage in our image-obsessed society. They would prefer to educate you, to share their experience, rather than just have you stare and say nothing. The kids support and heal each other peer-to-peer in ways that nobody else on the planet could, perhaps even in ways they themselves may have never received.

How can someone get involved with the organization?

Hoosier Burn Camp can always use more support! There is a link on our website to make a monetary donation, and we are always in need of things like bug spray, bandages, shoes, clothing, and sporting equipment. One more way to get involved is to use the when shopping on Amazon. Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase to HBC at no extra cost to you.

To learn more about Hoosier Burn Camp, visit their website or Facebook page.

The Business Casual: July 2016

Return to newsletter home page.

go back