Burn Camp is the highlight of the year for both Foundation volunteers and the children that attend camp. For the past eight years, at the Florida Elks Youth Camp in Umatilla, (Marion County) [map] has been home for the annual burn camp. And for good reason!
Situated on over 400 lush acres, the Elks property offers all the amenities that a child could wish for in a camp: full archery range, heated swimming pool, state-of-the-art gymnasium, full scale high angle ropes course, tennis courts, baseball/softball fields, canoeing, paddle boats, fishing, nature trails and more! The Pavilion, a large multi-functional recreational building, seats everyone at meal time, provides indoor arts and crafts, hosts Opening Ceremonies, and the weekend Dance with DJ. The 42 cabins, split between the Oaks and the Palms, can house up to 4 Children and 4 Burn Buddies each, if need be.
As a parent of a returning child, do you wonder why your child wants to go to burn camp each year? As a new parent, do you wonder what all the hubbub is about? Just what is it that attracts and entices kids to want to go to Burn Camp? Hopefully the stories and pictures here will share a little insight into the camp atmosphere.
The children begin arriving on Thursday morning and begin check in. Each child and his/her Burn Buddy make their way to their assigned cabins, off-load their bags and supplies, and then its playtime! Because children arrive at various times throughout the day, Thursday is set aside as free time. Children and Buddies can go swimming, enjoy the slip-n-slide, ropes course, crafts or just catch up with their pals that they haven’t seen since last year. The bonds of friendship formed at Burn Camp are long and everlasting. Evening activities usually include a very large campfire, a story teller and way too many s’mores! Then its lights out by 11pm for the older teens! (Earlier for the 6,7 and 8 year olds.)
Friday morning breakfast starts at 7:30 am. Then its on to Opening Ceremonies. Announcements are made about upcoming camp activities, rules, updates on Foundation activities, scholarships, “teams” and challenges, and a keynote speaker. Team challenges include all the children and their Buddies. While it is not a requirement for anyone to participate in the challenge they do have to attend the challenge. It’s often harder to narrow down the list and choose “who” is going to participate as everyone wants in. Some challenges are for the Buddies only (see the Barrel Race), but the cheering section, in this case, is just as loud! And what’s the prize for winning the challenge? The team that wins the challenge is given the honor of first place in the next chow line. (With almost 200 people at camp, the line gets very long!) After challenges, the kids get free time until lunch and all the amenities are opened up. Pool, slip-n-slide, ropes course, archery, crafts, bounce house, “jousting”, tennis, etc. After lunch, there’s a couple more challenges, more free time, dinner, and then a dance.
Saturday, pretty much a duplicate of Friday with challenges and free time, is also “Visitor” Day. On this day, various special guests are invited to camp for the day and allowed to participate in the challenges with the kids. Past Special guests have included Fire Department Personnel and trucks, County Commissioners, Helicopters, “Survivor” contestants, a motorcycle benefit ride (bikes on display for the kids to see), a race car/driver, and Burn Survivor Motivational Speakers. Its so amazing to watch some of the visitors step outside their comfort zone and get caught up in a water balloon fight or jousting; or see a child stare in wonder at the inside of a medical helicopter, knowing that the last time he/she saw one, they were in the middle of their own personal crisis; or watching big burly off-duty firefighters/police officers tear up the first time they come to camp and see the kids.
On Sunday, it’s a mad rush to pack up, eat breakfast and prepare for Closing Ceremonies before the buses leave at 10am. Booklets with pictures are passed out, as are video DVDs of the entire weekend if they are completed in time. The Closing Ceremony is a very emotional time for everyone as realization sets in that another year has come and gone. Kids scramble to write down new phone numbers, email addresses , cell phone numbers, and give one last hug goodbye. “Til next year,” they all say. And then its all over but the crying.
If you would like to Volunteer, click HERE for more information.