Burn camp, volunteers win parents’ praise|[8/7/06]

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 7, 2006

A Vicksburg girl has a new home away from home.

Nine-year-old Kelle Griffith spent a week at Mississippi Burn Camp near Kosciusko last month, and she said she’s already ready to return.

&#8220It was real fun, and I plan to go next year,” said Kelle. &#8220My favorite part was riding the horses, and we got to ride in a helicopter, too.

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&#8220They taught us about fire safety rules and how to take care of people if they’re ever hurt.”

Kelle, the daughter of Andy and Frances Griffith, was 4 1/2 months old when her arm became stuck in a space heater. As a result, she lost her right hand.

But, her parents said, she is not uncomfortable talking about her disability because she’s never known anything else. In fact, she’s adapted so well that her handicap is barely noticeable.

Frances Griffith said she was amazed at how helpful and hard-working the volunteers at the camp were.

&#8220They really went above and beyond what I expected,” Griffith said. &#8220They care about these kids so much – kids that they don’t even know. They really went out of their way to make sure she had the best time possible.”

The camp counselors, are special, too, because they are all volunteers who spend their own time, most of it vacation time, to help staff the camp for the burned children.

&#8220We have firefighters from Gulfport, Columbus and Hattiesburg and all over the state volunteer to become counselors,” said Tommy Wardlow, chairman of the Mississippi Burn Camp Foundation. &#8220We have school teachers, nurses and a variety of other volunteers who aren’t related to any fire service, but that just want to help out.” Their main goal, he said, is to build self-confidence in the camp participants.

Wardlow is also hoping to grow the camp and help more people become aware of the camp’s benefits for burn victim children.

&#8220Anybody who knows someone that is a burn victim between 7 and 17 or a parent of a burn victim can contact us about the camp, and we can get an application to them,” he said.

Wardlow says the basic requirements for attending the camp are that the child must have had an overnight stay at a hospital for the burn and must have a clearance from a doctor saying the child is well enough for physical activity.

Wardlow said the best part about the camp is getting feedback from the campers and their parents about how the camp has given the child self-confidence once again.

&#8220These children are survivors, in the first place,” Wardlow said. &#8220And oftentimes, because of scarring, the children might not have a great self-image. But we want them to realize that they are normal just like every other kid, and that they have just as much potential, if not more than any normal kid.”

Wardlow says the friendships the children make are the most rewarding part of the camp.

&#8220We get encouraging feedback all the time about kids making new friends at the camp,” Wardlow said. &#8220There are a lot of kids that work out their surgery schedules so they can be there at the same time, and that makes things work out great for them.”