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The City Journals

Burn survivors go to Camp Nah Nah Mah, where they can just be a kid

Sep 07, 2021 04:02PM ● By Bill Hardesty

Burn survivors at Camp Nah Nah Mah enjoy a sack race competition. (Courtesy of Utah Burn Center)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

South Salt Lake Firefighters Local 4080 and other SSL firefighters continued their long history of serving breakfast at Camp Nah Nah Mah on Aug. 7.

Camp Nah Nah Mah (Ute for “together in riendship”) is the University of Utah camp for burn survivors for children ages 6-13. They also sponsor a preschool burn camp for ages 4-5 and a river-rafting xxpedition for teens 14-17. In addition, they hold a young adult burn survivor retreat and an adult river retreat for ages 24+.

There is no cost for the camp, and applications start in January 2022.

Breakfast

Local 4080 has sponsored a breakfast at the camp for 21 years. In addition, union members and non-members give their time to serve together.

“Burn Camp is always an event everyone looks forward to. South Salt Lake Firefighters Local 4080 has really enjoyed spending our time volunteering at Burn Camp and looks forward to many more years of giving back to this great program,” Said David Larsen, the coordinator for the event.

Larsen mentioned they had developed excellent relationships with several SSL businesses that generously donate food and supplies. For example, since 2009, Egg Products has donated pre-cracked eggs, and Daily Foods donates pre-cooked bacon.

“Due to Daily’s bacon donation, South Salt Lake is known as a campers’ favorite for always bringing tons of bacon every year,” Larsen said.

This kind of sponsorship and service has helped keep camp costs low. This year, they served breakfast to 40 campers, which is smaller due to COVID-19 concerns.

 “SSLFD has been one of our longest-running cook teams,” Kristen Quinn, Program Director, said. “The SSLFD has been a huge supporter of camp for many years.  We really value this relationship.”

Camp Nah Nah Mah

The Burn Camp program began in 1992 with three central beliefs:

  1. That being outdoors can heal emotional trauma.
  2. Being with others who have had similar experiences creates community and healing.
  3. Intentional programming created to address trauma can help people move from being a victim to being a survivor. 

“Camp provides a trauma-informed program that enables children of a wide age group to build supportive relationships, take healthy risks, receive mentoring from caring adults, build friendships and learn coping skills to assist in long-term emotional recovery,” Quinn said.

Quinn provided some quotes from campers when asked about what they missed last year.

“I just need to be around people who don’t have to ask me all the time about my scars.” 

 “I’m excited to be with people who are my friends and don’t feel sorry for me.”  

“I’m excited to challenge myself on the rock wall. Usually, people baby me, and I want to try hard things.” 

“No one tells me I’m lucky to be alive here.”  

Bullying in the lives of burn survivors is a real issue, and camp counselors help the campers develop a strength-based and growth mindset. They practice walking tall, making eye contact, and speaking clearly. They practice rehearsed responses to questions. Campers create one sentence on what happened, one sentence about how they are doing, and one closing statement that politely lets people know they aren’t answering more questions.

“For example: ‘I got burned in a house fire when I was a baby. I am doing great now. Thanks for asking.’  Or ‘I was burned in a gasoline accident. Getting better is hard work. I’m sure you understand it’s hard to talk about.’  Or ‘I got burned a while ago. Now I enjoy playing football and riding bikes. What do you like to do?’ Quinn provided.

Applications for camp counselors will be accepted starting in January 2022. The application is found at healthcare.utah.edu/burncenter/burn-camp/.