- Associated Press - Saturday, July 19, 2014

MILFORD, Conn. (AP) - Yeilani Crespo, 9, has never been away from home without a family member, but the honor student at New Haven’s Augusta Lewis Troup School in New Haven couldn’t wait to leave Sunday for eight days of camp at the Arthur C. Luf Children’s Burn Camp.

Yeilani, who received severe burns to her hand in a kitchen accident, will be with a family of sorts: other children who bear scars from burns and can enjoy traditional camp activities such as swimming, rope climbing, archery and more without the worry of showing their scars.

Yeilani got lucky because her scarring is limited to a small portion of her hand burned by hot oil when she pulled a frying pan off the stove. But still, after spending a week in the hospital, she can’t wait to talk to other kids who have been through a similar experience.

“It will be fun to see how they handled it,” she said of fellow campers.

The camp, operated by the Connecticut Burns Care Foundation in Milford, works psychological miracles with children who have been scarred - some severely - and find it daunting to enjoy summer activities without worrying about drawing attention to their injuries, said the foundation Executive Director Frank Szivos.

The camp, which is free to children and funded through donations, is manned by volunteers, many of them firefighters and medical professionals, and is in its 23rd year. This year 85 children will attend from throughout the Northeast and as far away as Florida, Washington, D.C., and Ohio. The camp is located in Union.

Szivos said the mother of a camper from Virginia called after last year’s session to thank him, the mother said, for “giving me my daughter back.”

The girl, 10, was burned severely when a car tailpipe threw out flames as she was riding a bike around a car that was being worked on at her house.

Her mother told Szivos the girl had always loved swimming and summer activities, but since suffering the burns wouldn’t wear shorts, short sleeves or a bathing suit. She refused to go swimming or boating, Szivos said.

“After a couple of days at camp, her attitude totally changed,” and she could enjoy being a kid again, Szivos said. “Her mother says that being around other young burn survivors showed her that she wasn’t alone.”

Yeilani’s mother, Damarys Ramirez, said she’s excited for her daughter because only other kids who have had the same experience can really understand what the girl went through.

“I think it will be a fun experience,” Ramirez said.

Szivos said many campers are transformed by the experience, return every year and in some cases, even go on to become counselors.

He said some are bullied in school and in their community and may begin to perceive they can’t meet with success in life. Camp shows them it is possible to go on to lead typical lives - to go to college, have careers, get married, have a family.

“For the first time, they don’t stand out - they can have fun,” Szivos said. “Burns change lives, they don’t ruin lives.”

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Information from: New Haven Register, http://www.nhregister.com

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