Posted Tuesday, August 18, 2009 --- 5:45 p.m.
A local summer camp's celebrating 15 years of giving kids special memories! It's all offered for free to the campers who, many times, return later in life as counselors.
"It's just a great escape for a lot of these kids and like, I said it's a lot of fun."
Tony Kowaleski is a junior at UW Madison.
"Just being able to help these kids... is an awesome feeling."
Before he heads back to class, Kowaleski spends a week at camp.
"Even myself, as a counselor, it'll be middle of Winter and I'll be thinking about this."
This is burn camp - a week full of activities - all for kids who've suffered significant burn injuries.
"It's one week out of the year they can forget about their burn injuries and just be a kid like everybody else," Mahlon Mitchell says.
Eight-year-old Eli Iselin is enjoying his first year at camp.
"I get to learn things like about new people and how they got burned."
The 3rd grader from the Madison-area says he suffered his burns when he was 3-years-old. Like many, Eli says he's able to make new friends with similar stories.
"I can trust them... and they can understand the pain in my heart ... and I can tell what they have in pain."
Kowaleski, who was burned over 40% of his body as a 2-year-old, still finds support from other counselors as well as campers.
"Talking with them is a great time."
The camp is all volunteer-based with many of the counselors either former campers, nurses, or firefighters.
"A lot of times when you're a firefighter, or nurse, you only get the care part of it, you don't get to see the emotional part of it... how they're coming back from burn injuries," Mitchell says.
The camp's director, Mahlon Mitchell, also is a Madison firefighter.
"It's a way to give back. It's actually a healing process for us as well as the campers."
"It's really important this camp keep going 'cause a lot of these kids look forward to this every year," Kowaleski says.
The Wisconsin Alliance For Fire Safety holds burn camp - which costs up to $1200 per person but is free for campers.
The camp's director says donations are down this year about 20-percent. If you'd like to donate or learn more, head to www.wafs.org