INDIANAPOLIS — What makes you different makes you beautiful. That's the saying at Camp About Face. It's a camp for kids born with cleft lips and palettes. The camp is "A Ray of Sunshine" that's playing a positive role in the lives of hundreds of children who attend the camp, but also at Riley Hospital for Children.
"I was a surprise in the fact that I was born with a cleft lip and cleft palette," said Riley Hospital for Children Cleft and Craniofacial Program Coordinator Caitlin Church.
Church was born in 1987. Her parents had no idea she'd need 16 surgeries before her 16th birthday.
"I was kind of clocking in at a surgery a year for a while, probably," said Church.
She has been going to Riley since she was 4 months old. But now, she walks through thehospital doors every day to help other kids. Kids like Ian.
"She is naturally just a ray of sunshine," said Ian's mother, Jen Vierling, when describing Church. "She is a kind person. She is obviously compassionate and passionate about what she does."
Vierling said she hopes her son, Ian, draws from Church's kindness.
"That's my hope is that he goes out and helps people and loves on people just like Caitlin does," Vierling said. "She knows what it's like. She's been through the journey. She's had the surgeries. The therapies. All these types of things, so not only can she help families and inform them, but another important role is she can talk to the patients and say 'I've been through this. You're going to be OK.'"
Church also connects with kids at Camp About Face. It's a camp she attended herself for 10 summers, and now she gets to interact with kids to build their self-esteem and confidence.
"It's a camp that's kind of 'about your face' and what you look like and accepting that and loving it," said Church. "We have a saying at camp: what makes you different makes you beautiful. And so that's something we really try to instill in our campers."
Church hopes she can pass on a tiny bit of herself to her patients.
"Hey, this is what it looks like 30 years down the road," said Church. "It's going to be OK."
Camp About Face has been going on every summer for more than 30 years. This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, kids were able to experience the camp in a box. They're hoping to expand the program this year so it's something kids can have in their life all year long.