Solana Beach resident looks to expand programs as head of the Burn Institute


By Kristina Houck

Growing up can be difficult if you look different, but a local camp is giving burn survivors the chance to see beyond their scars.

Every year the Burn Institute in San Diego invites children with burn injuries to participate in Camp Beyond the Scars. About 60 campers ages 5-17 are expected to attend the Ramona-based camp during the last week of July this year.

“It’s a really healthy environment for the kids to feel support, get some special attention and have the time of their life at summer camp,” said Susan Day, executive director of the Burn Institute, a nonprofit health agency dedicated to reducing the number of burn injuries and deaths in San Diego and Imperial counties through fire and burn prevention education, burn care research and treatment, and burn survivor support services.

A 23-year Solana Beach resident, Day joined the institute in January. Since then, one of her goals has been to expand the organization’s programs, including Camp Beyond the Scars.

“My hope is that I can take the Burn Institute to a new and different level,” she said. “It needs to stay relevant and it needs to stay flexible. I’m hoping to just continue to evolve the organization.”

Camp Beyond the Scars is the institute’s most notable burn survivor support program. The camp was established in 1987 and San Diego’s local Camp Beyond the Scars launched in 1994.

For some, camp is the first time they see another child with burn scars, Day said. In 2013, more than 60 children attended the local camp.

“We try to raise their self-esteem and give them self confidence,” said Day, who noted many of the camp volunteers are former campers, adult burn survivors or off-duty firefighters. “The wonderful thing is kids naturally help support each other.”

In addition to camp, the institute educates children about fire safety and burn prevention through Fire Safe Kids, an interactive presentation that teaches kids ages 5-8 how to stop, drop and roll, crawl under smoke and have a family meeting place. In 2013, the institute reached more than 10,000 children in the classroom and sent safety information home to share with their families.

With assistance from volunteers, the Senior Smoke Alarm Installation Program brought more than 1,200 homes up to fire code with more than 5,000 smoke detectors last year.

The institute’s Juvenile Arson and Explosive Research and Intervention Center program offers mental health counseling to children. As the only court-approved and court mandated juvenile firesetter diversion program in San Diego County, the program served nearly 200 children at no cost in 2013.

The Burn Institute also partners with the UCSD Regional Burn Center. From gas cards to lodging assistance, the institute provided financial help to 50 families with loved ones in the hospital last year.

“I’m just really impressed with the unique programs that we offer,” Day said. “There’s a huge feeling of contentment knowing that you’ve helped somebody, knowing that your programs are easing their pain.”

A Michigan native, Day joined the institute after seven years as president of Combined Health Agencies where she worked with 23 local health charities, including the Burn Institute, to improve the community through individual and corporate giving.

She previously worked as the vice president of sales and marketing of the Better Business Bureau for a decade. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business with an emphasis in marketing from San Diego State University.

“I’m honored to be part of the Burn Institute team,” Day said.

Founded in 1972, the Burn Institute helped open the area’s only regional burn center at University Hospital the following year. During its first year of operation, the burn unit treated 89 patients, including 22 children.

Today, the Burn Institute outreaches to thousands of children and adults each year.

With six full-time employees and a few part-time employees, Day said the institute’s programs would not be possible without its roughly 160 volunteers, including a 29-member board, of which Solana Beach City Manager David Ott serves as president. The institute also partners with UCSD Regional Burn Center, corporate sponsors, foundations and donors.

“This is our hometown. This is our neighborhood. This is our community. I think that keeping everyone safe is so important,” Day said. “The Burn Institute provides me and others a unique opportunity to serve San Diego.”

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