Injured teens find tools and community with Angel Faces
By Emily Lewis
“Will I ever be kissed?” That’s one of many angst-filled questions teenage girls wrestle with as they traverse the quagmire of adolescence. Now imagine the usual challenges compounded by disfiguring burn injuries.
Lesia Cartelli knows all about these kinds of physical and emotional scars; she suffered severe burns over 50 percent of her face and body in a natural gas explosion when she was nine. As a result of her own struggles with self-confidence and self-esteem she created Angel Faces, a nonprofit that provides retreats and ongoing support for girls ages 11 to 19 who have suffered severe burn and trauma injuries.
Now in its ninth year, the annual Angel Faces Retreat brings together up to 25 burn victims from around the world for a one-week program at Glen Ivy Retreat Center in Corona. It gives the girls a chance to bond with other young teens who have similar challenges, and works with them to overcome fear, achieve their potential and develop healthy relationships.
Program participants work closely with licensed clinical therapists and corrective cosmetic professionals to develop tools and resources for addressing their social, physical and emotional challenges. Many are fearful of being touched or uncomfortable revealing their scars, and tissue dama
ge can cause severe physical tightness and pain, so they also receive massages, practice yoga, and take time for both reflection and play.
The theme of this year’s retreat was Let Your Light Shine. Like many of the girls, Angela “Angel” Brady arrived shy and timid. On the flight from her home town of Rockford, Ill., she’d kept her head down and looked at her hands to avoid stares and unwanted questions. As the retreat drew to a close, however, she proudly announced, “I’m going to say hello to the person next to me on the plane going home.”
Elizabeth Sanchez, executive director of Angel Faces, notes that the ability to effect this type of transformation is what makes Angel Faces so unique. “We focus on physical issues but also emotional ones,” she explains. “Angel Faces is about mind, spirit and body.”
A continuing program, Angels in Flight, provides ongoing support after the retreat to help the girls integrate newly learned tools and stay connected with their new community. Their trauma and pain may have long-term repercussions, but Angel Faces celebrates their resilience and hope for the future. (www.angelfacesretreat.org)
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