Abbotsford resident Cassidy Phillips thankfully doesn’t remember much of the scalding injury that occurred when she was one that left parts of the right side of her body scarred.
But when she was younger she did notice stares of judgment and repeated questions about what happened. It was through those uncomfortable situations that Phillips eventually learned about herself and directed her to the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association’s Burn Camp.
The Burn Camp is made possible through fundraising events such as the Hometown Heroes Lottery.
Phillips said when she was about six years old when her reluctance to participate in a swimming lesson due to her scarring was noticed by her swimming instructor’s sister, who was a firefighter in Abbotsford.
“She brought my parents aside and told them about the Burn Camp that happens every year and that she thought I would really benefit from attending,” the 2014 W.J. Mouat grad recalled.
About three years later Phillips mustered up the courage to go, and she said the camp experience changed her life.
“I really liked that no one was staring at me,” she said. “I didn’t constantly get questions and I was just able to be a kid and enjoy summer. It’s nice to know there were people who had gone through the same things as me and we could share our stories.”
Burn Camp is very similar to a traditional summer camp, with planned activities, sports and campfires. The only difference is that all the attendees have suffered injuries from burns.
Phillips was hesitant that first year, but she found she instantly loved the experience and returned every summer.
“I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t end up attending the camp,” she said. “It’s a place where I felt understood without even having to say a word. I know that it takes place for only one week out of the year, but I hope people don’t underestimate the positive effect that it has on the campers.”
Phillips aged out of the camp when she turned 18, but still attends every year in her role as a camp counsellor. She said in some ways being a counsellor is even more fulfilling and adds to the experience.
“I’ve been able to see kids as young as six years old start off the week as shy or introverted and by the end they’re laughing and so much more outgoing,” she said. “They’ve also made a bunch of new friends and they just bring that positivity home with them and grow as a person.”
She said the ultimate goal of the Burn Camp is to help make the attendees realize they are more than what people see on the outside.
“I came across a quote once that said ‘I’ve never met a strong person with an easy path”, she said. “It stuck with me and I feel scars don’t represent weakness but strength. At a young age I wasn’t happy with the cards I was dealt with in life but I realized I can’t change the past but I do have some control over the future.”
It’s through that attitude that Phillips has decided to enrol in the practical nursing program at UFV. She is scheduled to graduate later this year. She said her interactions with nurses as a burn victim and throughout her life shaped that decision.
“I wouldn’t have been able to have gone though what I did without the nurses that cared for me so that’s why I decided to pursue a career in nursing,” she said.
Tickets for the Hometown Heroes Lottery sold out on Friday, but there are several early bird and summer draws occurring in June and July. The grand prize draw occurs on Aug. 17. For more information, visit heroeslottery.com, or to donate to the Burn Fund, visit burnfund.org.