Becoming a Leader, Life Transitions, Part 1

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By Jess Irven, MS, LRT/CTRS, CCLS

Navigating transitions and change is the very essence of life. As we move through different seasons of the year, ages, relationships, and jobs and all that they bring, change is inevitable. How we approach, navigate, and react to these transitions shapes not only who we are, but also our future.

Some changes and transitions are expected, welcome, even eagerly anticipated. The unexpected also happens, though; life can change in an instant without warning. Such is the case with trauma and injury. Yet this article is not about how burn survivors react to the physical transitions introduced by an injury (for example, medical care, changed appearance, and possibly changed abilities), but how burn survivors approach and navigate other “life” transitions following their injuries.

Why does this matter? How could burn injury affect your experiences during these life transitions? A burn injury can have an impact on how you approach change. You may feel that because you have faced “the worst” (that is, a burn injury) and come through as a survivor, you can handle anything, or you may feel limited by and possibly even fearful of even the smallest changes (especially when unknown).

In this, the first article in a 2-part series, we will look at the transitions inherent of personal growth within the burn camp and other support programs. In our next issue we’ll examine how young adult burn survivors face the transition from high school to whatever comes next.

Burn Camp Provides a Navigable Path

The supportive structure of the burn camp world provides a known and navigable path on which you can expect, practice, and process through transitions. Progressing from camper to counselor in training, or CIT, to counselor allows you to be mentored into responsibility. It provides opportunities for you to serve younger campers and to practice leadership skills.

Experiences for a CIT (sometimes called an LIT, or leader in training) often include sharing your personal burn survivor story, as well as leading by example as a burn survivor who copes well with post-burn injury life. It also brings carefully planned mentor opportunities from camp staff and fellow volunteers, affording leadership skills, accountability for actions, and empowerment to employ these skills in a new role. With the next step a clear one (becoming a counselor and adult leader within the camp structure, and an adult burn survivor who gives back to the community), the path of transitions within the burn camp world is clear and supportive. Many camps and support programs also offer teen-specific programming, or even a separate teen camp, during the year for further support.

Kendall Rowdy, a North Carolina teen burn survivor, saw the opportunity to be a CIT as the next step in his growth and healing process. “It gave me the chance to have a positive impact on someone who has been through the trauma of being burned and has survived like I have,” says Kendall. He explains that he became a role model by using his own survivor story and sharing his own experiences “to let them [the campers] see and know that just because you’ve been burned doesn’t mean that your life is over.”

Describing the training and mentorship he benefited from, Kendall says, “CIT training prepared me in so many ways.” There, he says, he was shown “all the ropes.” He learned he could serve as a role model for kids who might be having difficulty coping with their burn injury and help them realize that they aren’t different from other people.

“I’m very positive,” says Kendall, “that I left a lasting impact on some campers.” He describes using his skills to “keep watch over the campers” and to be supportive “in the moment.” When he noticed that a camper was sad, homesick, not having fun with the activity, or just in need of someone to talk to, Kendall says he was able to be “a big brother.” “Even if just for a couple of minutes,” recalls Kendall, “it gave me the satisfaction of just being there for someone.”

Positive feelings and skills, such as those described by the teen, infuse into a young survivor’s identity and life at home. Research has shown that adolescents who attend burn camp experience far-reaching benefits, such as identity formation and communication.1 “Camp gave me a lot of things to go out and share with others,” says Kendall. “It taught me to be who I am and that I’m not going to let one bad experience change who I am. It gave me better leadership skills.”

Mentors also learn about the value of using their stories and their own healing journeys in ways that have a positive impact on others. In short, mentoring support programs help survivors, as well as inspire survivors to help others.

To get involved in a structured burn camp/mentorship experience

  • Contact the burn camps closest to you to ask about their programming for different age groups. To find camps for children and teen burn survivors, or to apply to volunteer, go the International Association of Burn Camps website, http://www.iaburncamps. org/.Ask about requirements to participate in teen
  • Ask about requirements to participate in leadership development programming (such as CIT programs). Some camps prefer that you attend one of their regular camps, teen camps, or other events prior to applying for a leadership program.
  • Begin practicing accountability by completing the necessary steps for application on time and independently.

Phoenix UBelong and Young Adult Workshop Programs Provide Space for Growth

Camp leadership opportunities also open the door for young burn survivors to hone leadership skills that can be used in a wider burn survivor support arena, such as in the Phoenix UBelong Youth and Family Programming at the annual Phoenix World Burn Congress. Phoenix UBelong programming includes an evolving strategy for supporting teens through transitions. The program has been developed to address the needs of emerging teen leaders and empower them within the program structure.

In UBelong Youth and Teens, the program for 7- to 17- years-old, teens have the opportunity to interact with the younger participants. In UBelong Young Adult, the program for 18- to 25-year-olds, selected young adults have the opportunity to serve as mentors to their peers, gaining workshop planning and peer support knowledge as they assist the workshop facilitators. These Young Adult mentors, who apply for these positions in advance, are an integral part of the facilitation team and offer their personal survivor stories of thriving after burn injury as part of their lead-by-example service. Clearly the previous experiences gained in a burn camp setting have value in this setting, as evidenced by the fact that all Young Adult mentors who have participated thus far have brought with them knowledge and experience learned from participating in support experiences at their local burn camps.

Branden Winters is one example of a young burn survivor who gained such skills in the camp environment and then further deepened his experiences at a broader support programming level as a mentor in the UBelong Young Adult Workshop. Branden, who had served as an LIT at BUCKO, Burn Camp for Kids in Ontario, says, “There are so many people that have had to go through obstacles and endure similar situations as myself. . . I truly didn’t think I could make a difference in someone’s life.” However, he explains, that by being a leader and helping other survivors through Camp BUCKO and Phoenix Young Adult Workshop, he has learned, grown, and even gained a sense of direction. “This experience has opened my eyes to the future of the burn community and more opportunities to help others,” says the UBelong Young Adult mentor, explaining that for a long time he had been seeking an opportunity to be more involved and that he now he hopes to one day “be invested full time in such an area.”

The supportive structure of the burn camp world provides a known and navigable path on which you can expect, practice, and process through transitions.

Branden looks back at his role in UBelong Youth and Teen with sincere appreciation. “Many years ago, someone said to my mom, ’Good things will come out of this tragedy,’ and this week is pure evidence. I would not change what has happened to me or I would have never gotten the opportunity to experience what I experienced this week,” he explains. “For that, words do not express the gratitude I have for this wonderful opportunity.”

Young Woman in Canoe

To take the next step in leadership and become involved in UBelong Young Adult programming, you should

  • Apply online to be a UBelong Young Adult mentor, keeping in mind the following guidelines:
    • You must be at least age 18/out of high school and no older than 25.
    • Mentors are selected following an application and interview process, therefore you should thoughtfully construct your application content.
    • Applications open in early April and close in May.
    • Mentors can apply for Phoenix WBC scholarship funds on an as-needed basis to support attendance and travel.
  • Strongly consider attending the UBelong Young Adult Workshop even if you are not a mentor; learning the techniques and understanding the role by watching current mentors will help strengthen your knowledge and ability to demonstrate how you can add your own skills to the programming next year. 
  • Visit for more information about UBelong Youth and Teens, and UBelong Young Adult Workshop, including the mentor role. (Applications to serve as a Young Adult Mentor may be submitted beginning in April each year.)
1. Rimmer RB, Pressman MS, Takach OP, et al. Burn-injured adolescents report gaining multiple developmental benefits and improved life skills as a result of burn camp attendance. J Burn Care Res. 2012;33:552-560. doi: 10.1097/BCR.0b013e318242ef11.


This story is an excerpt from The Phoenix Society’s® Burn Support Magazine, Issue 1, 2016.  Burn Support Magazine is a tri-annual publication that contains articles on the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of burn recovery.  All Rights Reserved.
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