Every year since 2013 – until the pandemic got in the way – Brittany Williams has jumped head-first into a week of utter chaos, immersing herself in an experience that is 100 per cent devoted to giving burn survivors as young as six the most memorable time of their lives.
The commitment to the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association’s Burn Camp, held near Squamish, promised constant activity and minimal sleep.
But the South Surrey nurse wouldn’t change a minute of it, and can’t wait until it is safe to resume. Being involved, after all, has changed her as well.
“One hundred per cent,” Williams, 32, said Wednesday (May 5).
“We always (say after that) our heart’s grown three sizes. It’s almost like a reset, a refresh – it really puts things in perspective,” she continued.
“And what you’re able to provide for those kids and for those families – a lot of these children, this is the week they look forward to every year.”
The burn camp has been held in the third week of July since 1994, hosting children aged six to 18 years old from across B.C. to the Cheakamus Centre for an opportunity to meet and share a summer-camp experience with other young survivors.
Typically, activities organized for the 75 or so campers run the gamut, and include everything from kayaking and skit nights, to arts and crafts. Doctors, nurses, medical therapists, firefighters and adult burn survivors donate their time to make it happen, as do camp ‘graduates’ who return as junior counsellors.
Williams, whose dad is a retired Richmond firefighter, said she got involved after learning about the opportunity through Jen McElgunn, a firefighter at the Richmond fire hall who recommended she try it out.
She hasn’t looked back.
“It was great. I think that it really highlights why first responders and health-care professionals do the work that they do,” she said. “I think it really kind of closes that loop, goes full-circle in terms of meeting those families, those patients in moments of crisis and then watching those children flourish and grow.”
Williams’ involvement began in 2012, when she joined the Bright Nights Committee, which plans the Bright Nights in Stanley Park annual Christmas lights display – the Burn Fund’s single-largest fundraiser.
“I don’t think a lot of people are aware… a lot of those donations that come through the front, when you enter the gate, go to help send some of the children to Burn Camp,” she noted.
The display was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and provincial health restrictions mean the burn camp will take on a virtual format this year.
With fundraising all but cancelled, Burn Fund officials are reminding people of one way to support the camp and other programs and services that hasn’t been quashed: the annual Hometown Heroes Lottery.
Run in partnership with VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, the lottery offers a chance at a grand prize home – including one option in South Surrey, at 3188 167 St., that is part of a prize package worth more than $2.6 million – or $2.1 million in cash.
Tickets – three for $75, six for $125 or 20 for $300 – are on sale through July 16, and may be purchased at www.heroeslottery.com, or by calling 604-648-4376 or visiting London Drugs.
Until things return to normal, Williams has many enduring memories of the impact efforts like the burn camp have, including that of a ‘graduate’ with whom she travelled to California in February 2020 for the Young Adult Summit, a weekend-long retreat for burn survivors.
She recalled how the young man “would rarely lift his head to make eye contact” when he first came to burn camp in Squamish, but on the trip last year “he was … up in front of strangers, talking and acting and singing.”
“It was pretty incredible to watch that transformation, and I think a lot of that comes from being part of the burn camp and having that connection with those other campers and the camp itself,” she said.
“I think that the counsellors and volunteers may get more out of (getting involved) than the kids, just because it’s so rewarding.”
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