Burn survivors, including one WSU student, will not be able to attend an annual summer camp July 2012 put on by the Northwest Burn Foundation due to its recent cancellation on April 19.
Camp Eyabsut, located in North Bend, Wash., is a program put on for children and young adults aged 7 to 17 who have survived burns. It will not take place this summer after an unexpected and controversial cancellation, said Nicole Strasburger, a junior criminal justice major at WSU, burn survivor and Camp Eyabsut counselor.
Jessica McNerney, a camp counselor and previous attendee, said closing the camp for one year is not necessary because the funds for 2012 are in place. She feels the decision to cancel is shortsighted, she said.
“This is the one week a year these kids get to be just regular kids, with no labels or stigmas,” McNerney said. “That has been ripped away from them in a very abrupt way, with no real explanation or information.”
Amber Fowler, Northwest Burn Foundation executive director since 2012, said the board for the foundation voted to cancel Camp Eyabsut for the 2012 year to solidify financial support, hire a camp manager and gain accreditation from the American Camp Association. The previous leadership did not establish a long-term financial plan for the camp, she said.
“The competition amongst special needs camps is great,” Fowler said. “This reassessment will demonstrate to potential backers that we have financial support, accreditation and a long-term plan to serve the youth.”
McNerney said the foundation already accepted staff and camper applications, and cancelling just months before is not right. The camp has achieved success for the last 25 years, so financial support is not in question, she said.
“(Fowler) has no practical knowledge yet of how camp is run and what the relationships are,” McNerney said. “She has made no effort to gain that information.”
Fowler said the foundation provides services including emergency housing to burn survivor families, cosmetic consultation and community outreach to educate about burn injuries like electrical, fire and kitchen burns.
“There is always a need for education about burns because as populations grow and age we find the two most vulnerable groups to burns are the elderly and children,” Fowler said. “People are not educated on how to deal with certain burns, so yes, there is absolutely a need.”
Steve Emhoff, former president of the Northwest Burn Foundation, said the cancellation has nothing to do with a lack of financing or improper insurance like Fowler said. During the April 19 meeting an hour after he resigned from the board, Fowler presented incorrect information about the camp’s finances, backed by the treasurer, he said.
The camp is the main program for the Northwest Burn Foundation and gains enough support from fundraising and donations, Emhoff said.
“The executive director has never been to one of our camps and I told her you can’t make any changes until you’ve been there,” Emhoff said. “Instead she convinced the board to cancel it. They have robbed the kids of this experience that no one else can give them.”
Emhoff has worked with the foundation for 10 years, he said. Harbor View Medical Center doctors and psychologists who saw a need for programs to help burn survivors created the foundation and camp that sees 60 to 100 campers a year, he said.
“The kids arrive at camp in long pants and sweatshirts, and they come out in shorts and a T-shirt,” Emhoff said. “This may be the one week out of the year they go swimming because no one is staring at them. (Fowler) doesn’t get that.”
Strasburger said when the counselors and campers heard about the cancellation it felt as if someone had died. The attendees look forward to the family atmosphere at the camp and felt betrayed by the foundation’s decision, she said.
“It felt like the board members who voted for it didn’t understand what they were taking away from us,” Strasburger said.
Camp Eyabsut allows burn survivors to experience camp activities like swimming, dancing and campfires, but in an environment that fosters confidence and friendship regardless of scars or marks, Strasburger said. Through talking and sharing stories the campers learn how to deal with burns and be compassionate, she said.
“When I first got burned I felt kind of like a freak and didn’t know anyone else it had happened to,” Strasburger said. “At the camp I learned that just cause I look different doesn’t mean I’m different than anyone else.”
Campers, counselors and parents are now working to put on the camp without the Northwest Burn Foundation’s support, Strasburger said.
“Whether we are with the burn foundation or not, I am still going to volunteer and go to camp every year,” she said. “It is really that important to all of us.”
The board members for the foundation recognize the negative emotional response of the volunteers at the camp, but the cancellation for 2012 is necessary for future growth, Fowler said. The camp will definitely re-open in July of 2013, she said.