The heat of July makes us dream of our days at summer camp, but there’s one special camp that focuses on more than just fun and games. Camp Wonder, a free, medically-staffed summer program for kids who suffer from serious skin diseases, gives campers a break from their daily lives and medical challenges and provides them with a safe, inclusive environment to let loose and have fun. At Camp Wonder participants experience the thrills of summer camp activities like other kids, and they do it with peace of mind surrounded by trained medical staff. And even better, one of our favorite skincare brands, Galderma’s Cetaphil®, has been a proud supporter of Camp Wonder since 2012, providing grants, volunteers and products as part of their ongoing commitment to raising awareness about skin diseases.
One veteran camper, 16-year-old Los Angeles native Ariana Covarrubias, shared her life-changing experiences at Camp Wonder with Justine. Hear about Ariana’s journey to more confidence, independence and self-discovery through her time at Camp Wonder, and how she hopes to inspire other teens by sharing her own achievements and challenges. You go, girl!
Justine Magazine: Describe what it’s like living with a serious skin condition.
Ariana Covarrubias: Being born with Epidermolysis Bullosa, a non-contagious skin condition, has impacted my entire life, but especially my teen years. I’m currently a high school student, a senior this fall, and I’ve encountered many challenges. Whether it is emotionally, physically or socially, I’ve had to go through several obstacles. I had no friends at the beginning of high school because everyone thought I was “weird” or “different.” Having a skin condition or any medical issue that changes your appearance brings you face-to-face to a lot of criticism and judgements, and most of the time it’s not just at school. It comes from different places, like that one guy who can’t stop staring at you at the store or the little girl who whispers things to her mom while pointing at you. It’s just those little things that happen day by day and later accumulate and make an impact on your life. It’s changed my perspective on life; it’s helped me accept the fact that not everyone will like me, and not everyone will accept me for the way I am.
JM: How has Camp Wonder impacted your life?
AC: The experience of being at a camp with others who have a skin condition like me has been life changing. It’s brought several things that I will forever cherish, like really great friendships and the ability to gain confidence in myself. I’ve brought every single little thing I’ve learned at camp into my daily life, and it’s helped me to open up to those I feel comfortable with. Independence has also been a major thing that I’ve learned throughout the years at Camp Wonder. One time I watched someone in my cabin straightening her hair, and I said, “Wait! How is it that she’s doing that all on her own when I still need assistance?” So I went back the following year and straightened my hair all on my own. I did more things that I knew I was capable of doing.
JM: What is your favorite memory from camp?
AC: Last year I met a person who gave me so much hope and inspiration, and helped me realize that, although I have a skin condition, it doesn’t have to interfere with my dreams. We had the privilege to be visited by Disney Channel actress Laura Marano and model Winnie Harlow. Meeting both of these role models was an absolute amazing time. Living in Los Angeles has brought to me many concert opportunities, and I’ve been able to meet many artists. Laura was on my list of people who I wanted to meet, but Winnie Harlow honestly made the most impact in me. I had known about her before she came to camp, and being able to actually meet her was a complete boost of confidence for me. To this day, I wish I could’ve had a more one-on-one conversation with her because her talk at camp was so inspirational. Hearing her story and how she was able to become a successful model gave me hope that I could possibly accomplish it, too. I’ve always wished to be out there in the spotlight. I’ve dreamed of being a Hollywood movie star and being a model, but I always thought that I’d never be able to make it because of my appearance. Winnie made me realize that everything is possible!
JM: What life lessons have you learned at Camp Wonder?
AC: Camp Wonder has helped me be more independent. I must admit that I’m not as independent as others my age are, but I’ve gradually made progress. At Camp Wonder, there’s this place called the Med Shed, which is for those who need assistance from nurses and doctors. I remember in 2012, my first year, I was fully reliant on those nurses. I was fully in need of their help. Now, as time has passed, I can do more things on my own. I still go to the Med Shed because I still need help on bandage changes. I also think campers learn from each other and catch on to those things to do them at home. Independence has been a major thing I have learned and still continue to learn through camp.
JM: What message do you have for other teens suffering from physical ailments?
AC: To all those teens out there suffering from an illness, I just want you to know to stay strong. No matter how many treatments, surgeries or hospitalizations we may go through, we can fight through it. Our life does not define us. Whatever medical condition you have, it’s something that will accompany you but never define you or what you can or can’t do. All my life I’ve been inspired by others, and now I wish and hope to be an inspiration to many.