WOLFEBORO, NH (NEWS CENTER) — During summer months, children and teens from all over the country flock to New England to attend camps. NEWS CENTER’s visited a unique one in New Hampshire where the focus is less on recreation and more on self worth.
On the calm shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, just across the border from Maine, nineteen teenage girls are enjoying a summer retreat.
The girls are diverse group but they all have one thing in common; they all have severe burn injuries.
Casi Smith is from South Carolina. Casi was burned by an iron that fell on her face when she was just 2 months old.
“I think middle school is when I started realizing people were staring and asking questions. I felt kind of uncomfortable and I was really insecure about myself and I would want to hide it but it was really hard cause it was on my face."
Casi says she dealt with the stares by getting aggressive.
“Well if someone was staring at me, I have always been outgoing, so I would walk up to them and be like ‘what are you staring at? Why are you looking at me?’”
Casi says the retreat is helping her deal with people’s stares and meet their curiosity with kindness.
“It is not like any other burn camps. It’s more helping you with healing and how to deal with certain situations and having fun while you do it.“
14 years ago, Leisa Cartelli founded Angel Faces which runs the retreat. She was burned in a natural gas explosion when she was 9 years -old. She was trapped in the basement of her grandparents house. Leisa says it took her a long time to learn that her trauma could be a gift.
“I wanted to create a place where they could come and tell their story be honest about what is going on at school about the teasing and bullying and the rejection and bring in professionals to help them get their lives back on track."
On hand at the retreat is an occupational and physical therapist and psychologist along with a handful of other volunteers.
Angel Faces has helped more than 200 young women over the years. For the last four years, the retreat has been held in Wolfeboro, at a beautiful home donated to the girls for the week. Leisa says it is the perfect place for the girls to feel safe.
“It makes me feel like I am more at home kind of. Like they are just my other family like they are related to me because they have scars just like me so we are related."
Four years ago, when Avery was 12, some neighborhood boys came over to her house while her mom was at work. They started playing with perfume and fire. Eventually they dumped the whole bottle of perfume in a cup and lit it. Avery was burned on her face, neck, chest, arms and back. None of the boys were injured.
“It teaches you to love yourself, accept yourself and not blame yourself if you do. That is what I have learned already.”
“I was in a candle fire. I had netting over my bed and the candle fell over and I was burned at 7 days old.”
Lina is 18 years-old and lives in Florida. Being with other girls who know what she is experiencing has been a reprieve. She says the biggest take-away for her is:
“learning how to deal with ppl staring at you and asking questions about you and not being rude about the questions they ask and just dealing with it calmly.”
Lina wants to be a firefighter when she is done with school.
Leisa Cartelli says they try to teach the girls not to let their burns define them.
“You’re a daughter, maybe you’re a sister, you’re a good soccer player, you’re good at art, you love to swim. Yes, do you have an experience with a traumatic event, a burn injury, a dog bite, a trauma, yes. But it is not who you are first.”
The girls have had a busy week, doing arts and crafts, playing in the water, and even learning how to use makeup. Casi is getting a makeover with a professional makeup artist and then getting to take home all the makeup that the artist used on her, so she can practice at home.
“This camp has helped me a lot with confidence. I feel more beautiful when I’m here cause you constantly have everyone reminding you, you know you’re pretty, you’re not worth anything less than all those other people out there. The camp is always reassuring me that I look good and they make me feel like I look good.”