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Camp Cosmos beach day in La Jolla builds community for kids and families affected by craniofacial differences

To close out National Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month, ConnectMed International brought its 2022 Camp Cosmos to La Jolla Shores on July 31 for a day at the beach for its campers.

The free summer camp weekend is designed for children and teenagers with physical differences — specifically craniofacial abnormalities and cleft palates — and their families. It enables the young people to build confidence and sense of self by trying new things and connecting with others in a safe space, according to ConnectMed, a San Diego-based nonprofit that works to secure ongoing care for children with craniofacial differences through education, partnerships and research.

In addition, families can interact with many of the treatment team members in a relaxed environment, the organization says.

Tiffany Melashenko has been a ConnectMed supporter since her 11-year-old son was in kindergarten. He had craniosynostosis, a birth defect in which the bones in a baby’s skull fuse prematurely, requiring surgical correction.

When he was attending his first Camp Cosmos five years ago, “he was really embarrassed by having a scar and felt very alone in it; he didn’t want anyone to see it,” Melashenko told the La Jolla Light. “After he came to camp and saw other kids with the same scar, it became a community and something he was proud of, as opposed to something he wanted to hide. It meant the world to us because it changed his whole outlook on how he saw himself and ... his condition. But there was also a community of people for which it is similar but different. For example, they may have another condition or a cleft palate. But he considers them all the same. They are all in this together. That has been huge for our family.”

Darren Moore, chairman of the La Jolla Shores Business Association, has been a longtime ConnectMed supporter, both personally and through his multiple restaurants. His La Jolla Shores restaurant, Dough Momma Pizzeria, provided lunch for the 80-plus camp-goers.

“It is very gratifying to see the ConnectMed families enjoy camp at La Jolla Shores,” Moore said. “Our team is honored to be part of making this experience happen. … Whether it is at our restaurants or in the community, our culture is built on giving. We will always line up to help kids.”

ConnectMed’s annual fundraising gala is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, 7600 Fay Ave., La Jolla. Tickets are $200 to $250 per person.

Learn more at connectmed.org. ◆