Reflecting on a Good Cause: Angel Faces East Coast Retreat

While Letters Foundation’s grantmaking focuses on providing one-time grants to individuals and families, Letters selectively funds Good Causes, a small pool of institutional grants for community-based nonprofits that support the educational, health and socioemotional needs of youth and their families.

Letters Foundation had the privilege of getting to know the work of Angel Faces, which was established in 2003, and was created to transform the lives of adolescent girls with severe, permanent facial burns and disfigurements. Angel Faces’ mission at its inception focused on adolescent girls, ages 12-19, with facial disfigurements. Lesia Cartelli, founder of Angel Faces, developed the idea for the original three-day residential retreat as a result of her severe burn injury and subsequent facial scarring at the age of nine in 1969. 

As an adult, Lesia recognized the unique psychosocial needs of adolescent girls with facial disfigurement as they navigate the developmental tasks of adolescence: struggling with social interactions, making friends, processing significant traumas, while trying to simply “fit in”.

Participants with an Angel Faces Board Member

This June, Angel Faces hosted two retreats in Wolfeboro, NH for adolescent girls and young women who have endured severe traumatic injuries that have left them permanently scarred. Participants learn how to handle, with grace, staring and unwanted questions. Private instruction on using corrective cosmetics, while learning skills and tools for empowerment, is also provided. Through therapeutic touch (massages and facials), participants begin to accept their appearance and lean into increased self worth.  Led by Lesia and two licensed therapists, the program facilitates intensive group and individual sessions on grief, loss and healthy methods to cope with their trauma.

Lesia leading a workshop with participants at the Wolfeboro retreat

Lesia graciously invited the Foundation to see their retreat in action, which was attended by Sarah and Val, two Letters Foundation Program Officers. Below is their reflection on their experience visiting Angel Faces at their east coast retreat in New Hampshire:

Reflecting on time spent at the Angel Faces retreat in June, we’re both thankful to have had the opportunity to meet these brave souls who left an everlasting mark on our hearts.  “Brave” is only one of many words to describe these young women, each of whom has suffered severe burn traumas through a life-altering accident, and many subsequent reconstruction surgeries.  

The girls spend a week at the retreat learning from Lesia’s tribe of specialist burn surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, psychologists, massage therapists, hair and make up artists–each of whom bring tools for the girls to incorporate into their lives. Many of the older girls have come back to the retreat for multiple years to share what they learned with others, a gift that cannot be matched.

At one point while we were listening to a role play scenario, someone said that once you begin to chat with the girls, their scars disappear. At first we thought that couldn’t be possible, so great were their injuries. But during the “Meet and Greet” as the girls sought us out, smiled brightly, and shook our hands, we found that it was completely true.  

One participant from Afghanistan survived her house being bombed when she was a year old. She was given up for dead more than once, with no access to antibiotics, and has endured countless surgeries. She is now attending school in North Carolina and intends to be a nurse. Another participant was burned in a horrific car accident as a teenager. She loves to travel and has been to many far flung places with her friends.  

One of the mottos of the group is “heads high and girls up.”  Every single one of them embraced that philosophy. They did not allow their external scars to overshadow their strength in character.

In founding Angel Faces in 2003 and holding these retreats, Lesia provides love, support and confidence to girls who need to know that they are still themselves.  Miraculously, it seems that each of them has grown and flourished with the help of the tribe.

Learn more about Angel Faces and donate here.