Photo: (l to r) Kristina Garman and Emily Principe
If you’ve never heard of Camp Susquehanna, you’re not alone. I recently learned about the 5-day, sleep-away camp for burn survivors from two of my MMC co-workers.
Meet Emily Principe, LPN and Kristina Garman, CNA/Central Supply Clerk. These two inspiring ladies found their calling when they chose to spend a week of their summer vacation at this very special camp for kids. The Burn Prevention Network offers a unique camp experience for children ages 7-17 who have had a burn injury, providing them with the opportunity to have fun, learn life skills, and meet other burn survivors.
I sat down with Emily and Kristina one afternoon and listened as they recalled their transformative and humbling week with the kids. They thought they were volunteering to help change the lives of others … to give them hope and happiness. Much to their surprise, it was they who were changed for life and for the better.
Here are some highlights from those conversations …
“Emily, how did you learn about Camp Susquehanna?”
“My dad’s best friend, Mike, started raising money for Camp Susquehanna after losing a friend and co-worker in an explosion years ago. When Mike and my dad met, they continued to raise money by starting an all-day golf tournament followed by a bonfire the following evening. In total, our family and friends raised $278,000!”
Emily’s sister started volunteering at Camp Susquehanna about 15 years ago. Emily finally decided to volunteer as a camp counselor, after her sister begged her for years. Emily continued to volunteer and was always trying to recruit new volunteers, just ask Kristina Garman, Emily’s newest recruit.
“Kristina, what inspired you to want to volunteer?”
“After hearing Emily’s experience from her first year of volunteering, I knew I wanted to go as soon as the camp re-opened in-person. Camp was provided virtually for two years due to COVID.”
“What was your role at Camp and how long were you there?”
Emily: “I had the pleasure of being part of the “Fun Squad” for five days. Our job was to help set up for all the events such as the glow party, a fancy dinner, and elective activities for the kids.”
Kristina: “I was at camp for four days and served as a camp counselor for the girls ages 10-13. Normally, camp is five days long for the kids but it was shortened due to lack of volunteers this year due to COVID.”
“How did your involvement change you or change your outlook on life? What do you believe was the impact you had on others?
Kristina: Camp has completely impacted my life in the best way possible. I feel like it has opened my eyes to so much around me. There’s the saying “don’t sweat the small stuff” and this resonates so much after being at camp. Some of the things in life that I have worried about or been frustrated about are truly insignificant, and I am trying to focus on the more positive aspects of life. I feel like just volunteering at Camp Susquehanna made a difference in the lives of the campers. Without volunteers, they wouldn’t be able to have this life changing experience. Whether people volunteer their time or donate money, they are helping to make a positive impact in a child’s life: a child that may not have a family to go home to, a child that has suffered from abuse, or even a child who just needs to know that they’re not alone.
“What was the most significant moment during your week at Camp Susquehanna?”
Emily: “There are so many stories about children who are embarrassed by their scars, or worried about what other people will think and talk about. It is truly amazing how after five short days, you can literally see a child completely transform right in front of your eyes. Two examples I have – one little girl was burned on the back of her neck and was scared to show her scars. Her first year at camp, one of the counselors pulled her hair into a ponytail because she was so hot and sweaty. When she went home, her mom was so shocked because she had never seen her little girl have the confidence to pull her hair off of her neck. The other example is a child who was recently burned so severely, he lost both of his arms and his right leg. He had prosthetics that he refused to use. There happened to be a male counselor, who has a YouTube channel called the “No-Handed Bandit.” He also has bilateral hand amputations and uses his prosthetics. This counselor gave this boy tips and tricks on how to benefit from using his new “hands” and next thing you know, this boy was rolling out dough in cooking class, making Boba tea and attempting to climb the high ropes course. It was truly a blessing that this counselor happened to be a part of camp this year.”
“What impact has your camp experience had on your relationships at work?”
Emily: “This kind of experience makes you learn not to sweat the small stuff and appreciate everything you have. Life is too short to be anxious, overwhelmed or angry. You learn to work together and help each other out a lot more. Teamwork is so important and everyone’s role is equally important as the other when it comes to getting the job done.”
Kristina: “As far as my relationship with Emily goes, we have always gotten along very well in and out of work. We worked together on the same unit, but through various schedule changes and during the course of COVID, our schedules were not aligned for the longest time. When Emily returned to day shift and we eventually went to Camp Susquehanna together, I feel it has strengthened our friendship in so many ways. While we didn’t spend a lot of time together at camp, it was the shared experience that created a special bond. I’ll forever be grateful to Emily for asking me to be a part of the Camp Susquehanna family. It’s changed my life in the best way possible.”
What do you want others to know about your experience?
Kristina: “At camp, I was taught so many things from team building exercises, to ways to help children cope with their feelings and even how to fish! I did so many things that would be normally out of my comfort zone just to make the kids laugh or smile, and it didn’t faze me one bit. There’s a point when you realize that doing things that make you uncomfortable help you to grow as a person.”
Emily: “I’m a full-time nurse at MMC and I love my job! This experience has taught me to be more patient and put so much more love and compassion into my job. Camp has affected all aspects of my life. I appreciate the good, and don’t worry about the bad. Life is too short to be anything but happy and I will try to spread happiness wherever I go. You never know how a simple smile can change someone’s day.”
If you’re looking for a life-changing experience and are interested in learning more about the volunteer opportunities at Camp Susquehanna, please visit www.burnprevention.org/camp-susquehanna/