Camper Tayvon and I had the incredible opportunity to attend a burn camp organized by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). It was a week filled with amazing experiences, from visiting fire stations and historical landmarks in Washington, D.C., to bonding with fellow survivors and exploring new friendships.
As we arrived at the camp, we were warmly greeted by dedicated IAFF volunteers who brought us to the airport firehouse. To our delight, they had prepared sandwiches for us, which we enjoyed before embarking on a tour of the station. We were fascinated by the site-specific fire trucks designed specifically for airports. Tayvon was even given the opportunity to carry a fire hose and sit in the trucks, which brought a smile to his face.
After our visit to the airport firehouse, we made our way to Camp Wabanna, where we would be staying for the week. Upon arrival, we were provided with our house rules and assigned bunk locations. We were also given our camp gear, which included a backpack, five shirts, a water bottle, and a couple of challenge coins. Later that evening, we engaged in group games and enjoyed a delicious dinner. The kids ran off their energy in the gymnasium while we awaited the arrival of the final groups from farther locations.
The following day, we began our day with a well-deserved sleep-in until 8 a.m. After breakfast, we had a camp briefing, outlining the expectations for the week and going over the schedule and code of conduct. Following lunch, we participated in various leadership activities. We played games that emphasized the importance of communication, engaged in group activities that incorporated our names, and focused on building confidence. Tayvon quickly became a crowd favorite with his infectious smile and charm.
Rising early on Monday our first destination for the day was the Pentagon Memorial, where we observed the dedication to those lost on 9/11. Next, we visited the Air Force Memorial, although a service was taking place, so we politely proceeded to the Albert Einstein statue instead. Later, we ventured to the Smithsonian, where we had a few hours of free time to explore. Tayvon’s interest led us to the portrait section, allowing us to admire the portraits of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Eager to see more, we rented Lyft scooters and continued our exploration of the Smithsonian before finally returning to camp for team activities and a well-deserved rest.
Bright and early on Tuesday, we headed to Annapolis, arriving at the Naval Academy. A guided tour gave us a glimpse into the life of cadets, including witnessing the noon formation. Later, we had the opportunity to explore the downtown area. Before dinner, we embarked on a boat tour of the bay, taking in the beautiful sights. Back at camp, we sang camp songs and celebrated another survivor’s birthday with cake before ending the day.
Wednesday began as another travel day, Tayvon was enthralled watching the marching presentations by the soldiers and eagerly engaged in taking pictures with them. Next on our itinerary was a visit to Arlington Memorial, where the IAFF played a role in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Guard Change. Four survivors, including Tayvon, had the privilege of laying wreaths at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In awe, we continued our exploration by visiting the Coliseum and taking plenty of photos. The evening concluded with a night tour, which held immense significance for Tayvon as he had the opportunity to locate and sketch the names of his late uncle and cousin, both of whom tragically lost their lives during the Vietnam War. The sight of Abraham Lincoln and the MLK statue served as a powerful reminder of the resilience and strength of the human spirit.
On our final day at camp, we engaged in team activities, with Tayvon conquering his fear of heights by participating in the big swing. While the kids enjoyed their activity, the chaperones had a discussion focused on acknowledging strengths and offering suggestions for growth to be applied both at our respective home camps and in life. In the evening, the camp organized a leadership certification acknowledgment for the kids, accompanied by pictures with the counselors. We then traveled to the gymnasium for a gala dance, where everyone, including Tayvon, danced the night away. It was a bittersweet and emotional closing to an unforgettable week.
The following morning, we reluctantly awoke at 7 a.m. to prepare for our departure. Exhausted but filled with the memories of an outstanding week, Tayvon immediately fell asleep on the plane. Upon landing, all he wanted was to crash and recover from the whirlwind of sightseeing, delectable food, and lifelong connections we had made.
I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to the host counselors and the entire IAFF team for organizing such a smooth and seamlessly executed camp experience. Despite the busy schedule, everyone stayed on course, ensuring that every participant had a memorable and enriching experience.
I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to be part of this memorable journey. It allowed us to experience the rich history of our nation and forge lasting friendships. From the well-organized activities to the extraordinary landmarks we visited, every aspect of this camp contributed to a truly great time.