Sunshine and happiness, flower crowns and smiles, a sense of belonging and acceptance. But for kids with craniofacial differences, that's not always the case.
“Children with facial differences often feel isolated or marginalized by society simply because they look different,” explained Dr. Amanda Gosman, a seasoned plastic surgeon who frequently donates her services to underserved communities around the world.
“Research indicates that around 80% of these patients and their family members report symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and severe psychological distress. Many live in social exclusion or isolation, don’t attend school, date or marry, or find employment.”
Together with her longtime friend Rita Albert, Gosman founded ConnectMed International, a San Diego-based nonprofit that provides free surgical services to low-income patients, education and training for healthcare professionals in resource-poor areas, and mental health support initiatives aimed at increasing patients’ long term care and quality of life.
“Most of our patients endure a lifetime of painful reconstructive surgeries, and the hospital is a scary place for kids!” Gosman told us. She wanted to find a way for her staff to get to know their patients and their families in a fun, casual setting, while also building trust to make future procedures and hospital says less traumatic. Realizing there was a lack of support services and recreational opportunities for the craniofacial community in southern California, Gosman and the ConnectMed team did what they always do: they rolled up their sleeves and found a solution.
They had already seen success with self-esteem outreach in communities in Mexico and Malawi, and used those same principles to create Camp Cosmos, a one-day event for children with facial differences and their families to interact with others going through similar experiences, and just have fun in a judgement-free space.
This is Delaney, she’s in 9th grade, and this summer, she worked as an intern with ConnectMed, getting Camp Cosmos up and running. Her mom Kristen told us, “Our kids just want to feel like normal kids. They want to make friends, have fun, and even if it is only for a day, not have to think about their next doctor’s appointment or worry about someone staring at them.”
“Craniofacial kids don’t get a lot of chances to have a day that is just for them, where they can just be themselves.” Melina’s mom said.
Parents get a lot out of Camp Cosmos, too. Gosman said they talked a lot about the upcoming first day of school, and how stressful it is for families like theirs. How the kids don’t usually know anyone else who looks like they do, and parents worry they’ll have trouble making friends, or might be bullied or excluded. Talking about their fears and concerns, and meeting other parents who have walked a similar road and can confirm there’s a light at the end of the tunnel made a big difference.
The inaugural session of Camp Cosmos took place last July, where 195 kids, 44 families, 86 volunteers, and 10 community partners gathered in sunny San Diego for a day of playtime, therapeutic activities, building connections between patients and caregivers, and the freedom to just be without fear and anxiety.
Feedback was so overwhelmingly positive, ConnectMed committed to hosting Camp Cosmos 2.0 this year, and expect even more families to attend. They’re going to need some help pulling it off, and Chive Charities is thrilled to lend a hand. We provided a $10,000 grant to fund a day of Camp Cosmos for 100 people, and their message of gratitude is what all of us need to hear right now:
“A most heartfelt thank you to everyone who came together to make this grant possible. You have truly made a direct impact on so many lives, and helped to make some remarkable children feel really valued.”
Every one of us deserves to feel loved and accepted, and you can be the one to make that happen. Help us give more families safe spaces to be themselves by becoming a Chive Charities monthly donor RIGHT HERE.