By Debbie Emery – Radar Reporter
A group of teenage girls at an annual summer camp have a very unique bond bringing them together.
Every guest at the Angel Faces retreat in Corona, Calif., has suffered horrific burns that have disfigured their faces and brought them taunts from bullies and nicknames like Freddy Krueger’s daughter or Burnt Toast.
From a house fire that burned one girl when she was a baby, to a 20-year-old whose Halloween costume set ablaze when she was heading to a Hollywood party, the victims are pushed beyond their comfort zones by wearing a bathing suit or pulling their hair back to show off their scarred skin.
Founder and CEO Lesia Cartelli describes the retreat as “a soft place to fall,” where they can not only learn skills and tools on “how to deal with teasing, staring and rejection, but taking their tragedy and moving forward with it,” she explained.
“Everyone here I can relate to better because everyone has facial burns. You can’t connect with people who don’t have the same experience as you, because the first thing people do is look at your face,” revealed Angela Brady, 18, of Rockford, Illinois, who was severely burned at 3 months when her toddler brother set the curtains ablaze while her mother was passed out from a drug overdose.
“It made me retreat into myself and lose a lot of the social skills I would have had because I didn’t know how to interact with people because I was different.
“I only have one picture that was when I was first born when I had no burns,”explained the teenager who was taken from her biological mother and adopted at age three, according to the Huffington Post.
“I do look at it sometimes and think about what I could have been like but I don’t like to think about that, because I can’t do anything about it and I can’t change it.
“After being here, I realized that only a few people are picked for this journey – and I was one of them.”
Cartelli only hosts the week-long retreat once a year and offers places to 25 girls from around the world who are specially picked based on their 14-page application, with fundraising and donations covering the $3,500 it costs to bring each of them to the spa retreat located an hour east of Los Angeles.
Many of them have never opened up about their injuries before or talked about their life-changing accidents. “We spend the first couple of days really digging into the trauma. How did it happen? Where did it happen? What went on? Who was there? Who do you need to forgive? Is it yourself?” she explained. “No one’s asked these questions in a loving environment. It’s tough. It’s tough on us to watch it and it’s tough on the girls.”
Along with the intense counseling sessions and team-building, the girls aged between 11 and 19 all participate in goal setting exercises, daily yoga sessions, swimming, and hiking, enjoy therapeutic massages and facials, and learn how to correctly apply cosmetics to conceal the worst of their scars.
Donations to Angel Faces can be made at AngelFacesRetreat.org. And you can watch a moving and emotional interview with the girls and the retreat workers here.