Employee Spotlight: Helping Young Burn Survivors Find Renewed Confidence Through Outdoor Summer Fun

Jul 17, 2017

Each month, we shine a light on a Points of Light employee who is making a difference in their community. These stories of service highlight the individual volunteer efforts of our dedicated staff, what motivated them to get involved, and how service has inspired them.

As marketing and communications coordinator in our Washington, D.C., office, Robby Montgomery plays an active role in telling the Points of Light story. He writes for the Points of Light blog and manages our social media accounts, curating and sharing inspiring stories of people doing good in communities around the world. Robby joined Points of Light as a communications intern in 2015, but he discovered his passion for volunteering and service years earlier.

After volunteering with his middle school and high school theater programs, Robby found an opportunity to serve as a counselor at the Mid-Atlantic Burn Camp – where he has spent a week each summer for the past 6 years, working with children ages 7-17 who have survived severe burns. “The scars from severe burns can impact a survivor’s body image and self-esteem, especially children who are still developing their sense of self-worth,” Robby said. “The camp’s main objective is to help campers come to terms with their experiences and help them see past their scars to the person underneath.”

We sat down with Robby to learn more about his work at the Mid-Atlantic Burn Camp, and what being a volunteer means to him.

1. What was your first volunteer experience?

High school service hours were my first experience with volunteerism. I was very into theater at the time and had become close with two of the directors running plays at my middle school. I began volunteering as a director’s assistant, helping to manage the kids backstage and throughout the 6-week rehearsal process, and occasionally helping direct.

2. What inspired you to get involved with the Mid-Atlantic Burn Camp?

After my junior year of high school, I became a camp counselor at a theater camp at my school. I loved working with kids and I was good at it, so when one of my cousins posted on Facebook that they were looking for male counselors at a camp she volunteered at every summer, I jumped at the opportunity. A few weeks later, I was bound for camp!

3. How has your work with this the camp evolved over time?

As with any organization, the longer you are there, the more you become involved just by the nature of exposure. I started my first year as a regular counselor, though I was occasionally called upon to lifeguard at the camp’s pool since I was certified at the time. Year-to-year my role has shifted slightly – I served one year as the co-director of games with my friend Sam, and I have been a counselor for kids from several different age groups over the years. This year I hope to play a bigger role in the counselor training that takes place for two days before camp, teaching fellow counselors some time-waster games they can pull out to keep kids entertained between activities.

4. What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

At points in my life, I’ve found myself to be a fairly judgmental person – something that has held me back at various times, whether it was turning down an experience or a friendship prematurely based on my own pre-conceived notions. In the past, I was the type of person who might have assumed that someone with a 90 percent facial burn who needed two forearm crutches to get around might be less capable than me. Burn Camp challenged all of that. I’ve seen that same kid hop up fearlessly onto a horse, perform on stage in front of the entire camp, crawl through slimy caves, take an overnight canoe trip down the Shenandoah River – and accomplish countless things that many people never even try. Through Burn Camp, I learned that you really are just as strong as you think you are and can accomplish whatever you set your mind to, and most importantly to never underestimate what people are capable of.

5. What’s been the most rewarding part of your volunteer work?

It’s definitely the little things in life that are the most rewarding. Every year, without fail, we will arrive at an activity and one of my campers will swear up and down that they are not capable of participating. Whether it be that they’re scared, too tired, too hungry or whatever else, it’s always rewarding when I’m able to convince them to push themselves harder and take on another challenge by choice. So if a camper is scared of horseback riding, getting them to pet the horse; if they complain that they can’t walk any further on a hike, having them rest for a minute and then walk the rest of the way down. Seeing a kid challenge themselves and learn that they did possess the ability to do what they said they could not is definitely the most rewarding part of the whole gig. Especially when, after consistently pushing them to challenge themselves, a camper says that next year they hope I’ll be their counselor again.

6. Has your experience with volunteer service influenced and/or affected your career? How?

The experience of helping to make others’ lives better has definitely impacted my career pursuits and my overall direction in life. Linda, one of the two directors at Burn Camp, has a saying, “You may not be able to fix the whole world, but you can always do something to improve your corner of the world.” That mantra has become a huge part of my life and as I look toward future opportunities in my career, I consistently am trying to figure out how I can clean up my corner.

7. What advice do you have for others who are looking for ways to get involved?

Go with your strengths. Having had experience as a camp counselor before I began serving at Burn Camp made me feel like an asset the moment I got there. I think it’s easiest to help others when you already know how you can be of service, so look for ways to give back that pull from your existing skill sets.

8. What’s next for you as a volunteer?

Burn Camp 2017 kicks off on July 29, so next for me is packing up my bags and heading off to camp – this year the theme is outer space, I’m so excited! Additionally, I will continue looking for ways to give back to my community in more traditional ways. The members of the Points of Light DC office marketing and communications team have fallen into a good pattern of serving at DC Central Kitchen once every few months, so I’m looking forward to continuing that as well.

Robert Montgomery