KILLINGWORTH, Conn. (WTNH) – Campers learn the ropes, as they trust their peers and push themselves.
“’Can’t’ is not a word in this camp we’re going to use, you’re gonna try it,” says Camp Director Steve Lupinacci.
But these campers, ages eight to 18, are already incredibly strong since they have had to endure tremendous hurdles as burn survivors.
The Arthur C. Luf Children’s Burn Camp is a place where they can heal and grow.
“I’m friends with everyone here, everyone knows me and it’s fun to come back here every time and make new friends with new campers,” says 14-year-old Haile Martinez from New York.
“When I first got here, long pants, long sleeves, everything. By the end of the week, not even end of the week, I was going home in shorts,” says 18-year-old Mary Cox from the Washington DC area.
However, Executive Director of the Connecticut Burns Care Foundation Dominic Mantuano says this year has been filled with challenges.
“We lost our camp. It was sold out from underneath us and we have to pivot to find the kids an immediate camp so they had a place to just be a kid,” says Mantuano.
Long held in Union, this summer the camp moved temporarily to Deer Lake in Killingworth. The camp also shifted from July to August which affected attendance.
Mantuano says, in addition, the community was rocked by the recent deaths of the camp founder and a valued organizer.
“It was a challenge,” he says.
So, no matter the location or issues, the mission continues.
“Some come into camp not accepting their burn injury,” says Lupinacci.
Martinez has been attending camp for eight years and now considers herself a mentor to others.
“Sometimes they come here and they’re a little insecure and it’s like, ‘You know, there’s no need to be insecure, we’re all the same here.’ We may have different stories but, at the end of the day, we’re all struggling through the same thing and, in the end, it’s just going to be fun,” she says.
“We’ll finance the food, a lot of the activities and we’ll assist in a lot of the planning,” says Christopher Brigham, battalion chief with the New Haven Fire Department who routinely shows up to help. “I come every year because these kids really have a different level of resiliency and it really hammers down what we do as firefighters.”
“I’ve seen three full groups go all the way through ten years and it’s a phenomenal growth experience for them and for us,” says Board Member and Photography Director Bob Kepchar.
So, the foundation wants to give these kids the gift of a permanent camp so that for generations to come these survivors can continue to thrive.
“I am who I am and these burns are what helped me become this person today,” says Martinez. “This is the best, this is fun.”
Many older campers like Haile go on to become counselors in the future.
Click here if you can help the camp find a new location.