Tuesday, October 23, 2012
A San Diego program called Angel Faces has been transforming the lives of young girls for 10 years now. The program gives them the confidence to overcome the rejection associated with a severe burn or facial disfigurement.
Angels Faces is described as a soft place to fall and a solid foundation for growth for girls with severe burn trauma.
Many of the girls who come to Angel Faces think they can't make friends because of the way they look.
"If I had one wish what would it be? To not be burned, but sometimes I like it," said Lesia Cartelli, reading one of the many applications she receives for the Angel Faces retreat held once a year in June. There, girls as young as nine learn how to look beyond the scars and discover there's more to life than how you physically look.
"That's what's so beautiful, because when you do make that decision, that, good grief my hands, my face, my back, but if I found my sense of humor and learned to do something fun and was fun to be around, people would soon forget about the burns and I wouldn't be the burn girl," Cartelli said. She founded Angel Faces in 2003 and used to be that "burn girl" growing up.
At age nine she was severely burned over 50 percent of her face and body in a natural gas explosion at her grandparents' home in Detroit. Today she doesn't even like to use the term burn survivor.
"It's not more important that you're a daughter or sister or friend?" she asks with a puzzled look on her face.
Girls come from San Diego and throughout the country for the program. Cartelli says they may enter the one-week retreat with heads down, but leave with a sense of hope and purpose, even changing how friends and family view them.
"The people around them are so guilt-ridden, their families, friends, doctors and nurses that they'll give and give. And that's not what they need.They need the teachings, they need to learn how to build the strength and not put a green bandage on it," Cartelli said. She actually started San Diego's Camp Beyond the Scars for kids with severe burns in 1992.
Angel Faces is her way of advancing the program by providing licensed therapists, corrective cosmetic surgery, art therapy and lots of love. Cartelli was able to overcome her fear of fire with help from someone who trained San Diego firefighters to enter burning buildings.