2019 Volunteer Appreciation Awards
The 2019 Central California Award winner is Scott “Poindexter” Mellon.
Hanford Fire Department Firefighter, Scott “Poindexter” Mellon met Firefighter and AARBF Volunteer Chris “Rocks” Bridger at a class being held at Wonder Valley Ranch Resort & Conference Center. After Rocks told him all about AARBF and Champ Camp, he became very interested and approached his Firefighter’s Association about creating a team for the Annual Champ Camp Chili Cook-off. They’ve had a team in the Chili Cook Off for 5 years now and last year was Poindexter’s first time as a Champ Camp Counselor. Not only has Poindexter volunteered his time, he has also been raising money for AARBF through the Fresno Urban Run, taking place May 5, 2019! Erika “Kika” Corona-Mendoza, our Central California Regional Manager, had this to say about Poindexter, “I nominated him for this award because without his help, many adult burn survivors would not have made it to The Retreat this year without him.
He came into the office and assisted me with making nearly 800 calls to survivors to encourage them to come to that camp. I would never have been able to get as many survivors there or made that many calls without him!” We asked Poindexter why he chooses to continue volunteering with AARBF and if he has a fun memory he said, “100% the people involved with AARBF. These are amazing & wonderful people who are so incredibly inspiring, humble and accepting. It feels like family. Champ Camp filled me up with positive energy and it is so much fun! A lot of work but fun!! A fun memory was jumping in the lake at Champ Camp after winning the Chili Cook-off because we won by only ONE VOTE against the CHP team.”
The 2019 Northern California Award winner is Elliot Reynolds.
Elliott Reynolds first became involved with the AARBF through one of his friends, Christian Rozo. Christian was the previous Intern Manager for the AARBF Firefighters in Safety Education (FISE) program and needed help with the logistics side of things. As soon as he presented the details of the organization and work we would be doing for the community, Elliott jumped at the opportunity. That was a year and a half ago, and now Elliott is managing the same amazing FISE Intern Team! When asked about his experience volunteering with the AARBF and why he continues, he stated, “It has been nothing but positive. Being able to teach the children in my community about fire prevention and safety is extremely rewarding and always leaves me with a smile on my face.
The people involved in all aspects of the AARBF and FISE programs are extremely fun and easy to work with, which makes volunteering a blast to do. At the end of this semester, I will reach my 2-year mark as a volunteer for AARBF. I choose to stay a volunteer because of the amazing experiences I continue to have within this program. Being able to work with kids and teach them about fire prevention and safety, being able to work with classmates and friends in order to reach as many students as possible, having the opportunity to work alongside the San Francisco Fire Department and some of its finest firefighters, and ultimately to see the impact I can have while giving back to the community are just some of the many reasons why I continue to volunteer for AARBF.”
The 2019 Southern California Award winner is Andrew “Monkey” Mersmann.
Andrew “Monkey” Mersmann is so much more than our AARBF Board President, he’s a super volunteer! He worked in the 1990’s touring California schools with a Fire Safety Show teaching fire and burn safety messaging to K-third grades. This was before our Firefighters in Safety Education (FISE) program when AARBF hired a theatre company to deliver our burn and fire safety education. He spent 8 years as “Manfred, the Firefighting Vampire” and also wrote about AARBF Champ Camp in his book, as a great volunteer opportunity, in 2009. The list of ways Monkey volunteers for AARBF goes on and on but a few highlights would be his work as a Champ Camp Counselor, participating in the Young Adult Summit, Surf Trip, LA Firefighter’s Burn Relay, the Southern CA Holiday Party, golf tournaments, aquarium & zoo trips, and more! He has been on the Board of Directors for 6 years and is currently our Board President, making positive and lasting changes to the way we serve Californians.
When asked why he chooses to continue volunteering with AARBF, and if he has a fond memory to share, he said, “At my first year as a Champ Camp counselor in 2013, it became clear to me that I am a “Lifer” and will volunteer with AARBF for as long as I am able. The people in every avenue, from clients and community partners to volunteers and staff, young and old, are incredible, dedicated, and most importantly–family. A fond memory I have would be as my first year as a Champ Camp counselor. I was nervous and excited and absolutely sure I was going the screw something up. I had a dermatologist appointment the week before camp, and as a skin cancer survivor, almost every appointment includes freezing or cutting suspicious or problem spots (often off my head and face). I had several small scabs and was mortified, ridiculously thinking they were the only thing anyone would notices and being overly concerned with how I looked and making a good impression. The moment I met the kids I recognized how goofy my concerns had been as they have taught me everything about perspective, pride, and acceptance for everyone…and to NEVER take myself too seriously.”
Survivor Support Services Awards
The 2019 Central California Award winner is Trever “T-Man” Martinusen.
Trever “T-Man” Martinusen has worked for the Bakersfield Fire Department for over 25 years and currently serves as a Battalion Chief. T-Man is also the Executive Director for the Bakersfield Firefighters Burn Foundation (BFBF) and has volunteered supporting burn survivors for over 27 years. As a new firefighter, T-Man got the opportunity to work as a Camp Counselor at a weeklong summer camp for burn survivors in Tahoe. This camp experience was life changing and validated his commitment to supporting survivors. One mission of the Bakersfield Firefighters Burn Foundation is to send Kern County burn survivors to summer camp. Eleven years ago T-Man and the Bakersfield Firefighters Burn Foundation had the privilege of touring Champ Camp and witnessed first-hand the amazing camp program AARBF had developed. It wasn’t the camp curriculum or location that set this camp apart, it was the volunteers and counselors that had a passion for supporting burn survivors that shined through. Following this camp tour, BFBF committed to fundraising within our community to support Champ Camp and has financially sponsored every Kern County survivor interested in attending Champ Camp. Through this experience of working with AARBF, T-Man has also volunteered and supported the Central and Southern CA Surf Trip in Morro Bay, CA, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Trip and the Southern and Central Ski Trip at China Peak, CA. T-Man is a true asset to AARBF and the burn community, not only as a fundraiser but as a dedicated volunteer!
The 2019 Northern California Award winner is Santa Clara County Fire Department
In 1989 Santa Clara County Fire Department Firefighter Rob “Jack Rabbit” Hecocks was recruited by Colonel to assist with the annual Northern CA Burn Survivor Ski Trip, as he was living in Bear Valley at the time and that is where the trip takes place. Soon, he began bringing his family along and instantly fell in love with AARBF. For almost 10 years he exclusively volunteered with the Ski Trip however in 2009 he finally had the chance to become a Champ Camp Counselor. After the first year he was absolutely hooked and wanted to be a part of the larger picture and mission of AARBF. In 2012 Colonel and Ding Dong pulled back and handed over the reigns of the Ski Trip, making Jack Rabbit our new lead volunteer for that event.
Jack Rabbit not only volunteers with the Ski Trip and Champ Camp, he also helps with fundraising through the Peninsula Firefighters Burn Relay and the Santa Clara County Pancake Breakfast, coming up on April 27th. When asked why he continues to volunteer so much of his time to AARBF and the burn community he said, “It’s not only about coming back but recruiting more volunteers. It’s impossible to explain to people who have not experienced it but until they come they just can’t truly understand.” An emotional memory for Jack Rabbit was the time he accidentally fell on the trampolines at Champ Camp, managing to break a bone, and experiencing the true love of Champ Camp. Counselors surrounded him and lifted him up and into the back of Teddy’s suburban and drove him down to the county hospital. Counselors were constantly checking in and were so concerned, a true outpouring of love.
The 2019 Southern California Award winner is Fabiola “Hamster” Velazquez.
Fabiola “Hamster” Velazquez started with AARBF when she met a fellow burn survivor, who is now a close friend of hers, at her local mall. This survivor invited her to The Getaway, a weekend camp for adult burn survivors, and while there she was introduced to the AARBF family, Champ Camp, and has been hooked ever since! She been volunteering since 2015 and has volunteered for Champ Camp, the Surf Trip, the Southern CA Ski Trip, and the Aquarium Trip. She’s also helped raise funds for AARBF at the LA Firefighter’s Burn Relay and assisted with our Southern CA Holiday Party, Day at the Park event and even help with our Burn Prevention efforts with our Firefighters in Safety Education (FISE) program.
When asked why Hamster continues to volunteer with AARBF, she stated, “because I have seen all the help & support that they give the burn community, something that I never had growing up and have been benefiting from for the last 4 years, so I definitely want be a part of giving that help & support back.” A fun memory she has with AARBF is from the last surf trip where she played an endless and extremely fun game of Uno with some of the kids and counselors.
The 2019 Central California Award winner is the Fresno Fire Chief’s Foundation.
The Fresno Fire Chief’s Foundation (FFCF) was created in 2004 by a group of caring community leaders and members of the Fresno Fire Department to address the unmet needs of fire prevention and safety education through community outreach. Since 2006, the FFCF has donated an amazing $61,350 to AARBF to assist in our fire and burn prevention education efforts in the Central CA region, such as our Firefighters in Safety Education (FISE) program. Through our wonderful partnership with Fire Chief Kerri L. Donis and FFCF President, Ryan Ivanoff, they have participated in our annual Central Valley Firefighter’s Burn Relay and created a team for our annual Champ Camp Chili Cook-off, even holding a fundraiser to get together a stunning chili cook-off booth. We are so grateful to the FFCF for their continued dedication and support of AARBF and burn prevention!
The 2019 Northern California Award winner is Sprinkler Fitters Local 483.
Sprinkler Fitters Local 483 is a union that represents the installers of sprinkler systems in the construction of both commercial and residential buildings. In 1998, they decided that they wanted to give back to their community and started a golf tournament. They reached out to their partner and friend, Chief Dan Lydon of the Fremont Fire Department, who recommended they select AARBF, as our mission of fire and burn prevention parallels their own. Over the past 18 years, the Sprinkler Fitters Local 483 have donated an amazing $375,720 through this golf tournament! When asked why they continue to give to AARBF, John Medina, President & Organizer for Local 483 said, “AARBF helps with what we do. We believe in saving lives and property with the sprinkler systems that we install and providing fire and burn prevention education. We hope that some of these [burn] injuries could have been prevented and we want to help. We’re always thinking about how people’s lives could be saved. Having a community partner like AARBF is so important for what we want to accomplish.”
The 2019 Southern California Award winner is Ken Hewett.
40 years ago, Ken Hewett first learned about AARBF after an Arcadia Fire Department firefighter passed away and he saw an outreach program provided by the Foundation. He then participated in various aspects of Champ Camp, which helped to keep him motivated throughout the years to continue to give back to the Foundation. 36 years ago, Ken and his wife, Toni, started a golf tournament in Southern California, as he could see the importance of Champ Camp and believed in the mission of AARBF. This golf tournament has grown so much over the years and has successfully raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for AARBF and Champ Camp! Ken has also served on the AARBF Board of Directors for three years, was a Bridge to Life Recipient, received the Ruch Family Circle Award in 2006, as well as received the 1st Diamond Bar Community Hero Award for his charity work. We are so grateful to Ken and Toni for the countless hours they’ve volunteered with AARBF and for your dedication to raising funds to support our mission through the golf tournament!
The 2019 Central California Award winner is Stacey Nolan.
In 2013, Fire Prevention Specialist II for CAL FIRE/Fresno County Fire, Stacey Nolan, became involved with volunteering for AARBF through the Annual Champ Camp Chili Cook-off. The first time she came on board and competed, CAL FIRE won! In addition to her participation at the Chili Cook-off, she has orchestrated Cal Fire and the CDF Firefighters Benevolent Foundation to be part of the Central Valley Firefighters Burn Relay fundraiser. She is heavily involved with the Firefighters in Safety Education (FISE) program in the Central Valley and was instrumental in encouraging the City of Sanger Fire Department to adopt the program as well.
She volunteers and helps organize Health and Safety Fair events, like May Day. She is also a major part of the Burn Prevention Coalition, in partnership with other organizations including AARBF. When asked why she continues to volunteer with AARBF, she said, “It means so much to her, as her husband is a burn survivor as well, and they had always wanted to get involved with burn camps and organizations. She truly loves what she does and strives to save lives through burn and fire prevention education.”
The 2019 Northern California Award winner is Patrick “Patch” Reyes.
In 2012, San Francisco Fire Department Firefighter Patrick “Patch” Reyes started volunteering with AARBF at our Bachelor Auction fundraising event. Later that year, he started doing Firefighters in Safety Education (FISE) presentations and in 2013 he attended Champ Camp for the first time and after that, he was hooked. In addition to volunteering for Champ Camp and FISE, he has also volunteered at the Northern CA Ski Trip, the Monterey Bay Aquarium trip, the Outdoor Trip, and Young Adult Summit (YAS). He’s also been a huge part of AARBF’s fundraising efforts by participating in our Grow Your ‘Stache and Bows for Dough (coming May 13th!), the North Bay and Peninsula Firefighter’s Burn Relays and he was even filmed a YouTube video with KIND Snacks in 2017, in which KIND Snacks generously donated $5,000 to AARBF!
When asked why Patch continues volunteering with AARBF and if he has any funny memories, he said, “I’ve seen the positive impact the foundation has on our campers as they grow up. I’ve made some lifelong friendships with fellow volunteers, staff, and kids. Funny memories would be the ski trip where Funshine, a fellow Champ Camp Counselor, licked my cookie because it was the last chocolate chip cookie and I ate it anyways… the year at Champ Camp when I farted for like a full minute during orientation… and the Holi celebration at Champ Camp.”
The 2019 Southern California Award winners are Andrew Clemens and Michael Shifflett.
Our Southern CA Burn Prevention Award is being awarded to two LACoFD Firefighters who are a team when it comes to presenting Firefighters in Safety Education (FISE)! In 2017, Andrew Clemens was a Probationary Firefighter for Los Angeles County Fire Department. He was happy to volunteer for the FISE training put on by AARBF and LaCoFD and truly enjoys working with youth programs, especially when it involves talking about the fire safety, and giving them the skills to deal with real life situations. When asked why Andrew continues to volunteer with AARBF, he said, “Some of the most entertaining moments during the FISE presentations are hearing the comments and questions from the K thru 2nd students.
They love sharing personal stories or asking questions, often having little to do with the topic we just covered, but they often bring to light new topics we can discuss that aren’t in the normal teaching curriculum.” Andrew’s partner in crime, fellow LA County Firefighter, Michael Shifflett said he was in the right place at the right time when it comes to volunteering with AARBF. When asked why he chooses to continue volunteering for AARBF, he said, “I enjoy the challenge of teaching kids. And though it gets easier with every presentation, my respect only deepens for those who do it day in and day out. One of my favorite parts of the school visits is when the kids get to ask questions, which may or may not apply to the topic at hand… usually not.”
Community Partner Award
The 2019 Award winner is the Community Regional Medical Center (CRMC), Leon S. Peters Burn Center.
The CRMC Burn Center has been partnered with AARBF for many years however, it has been more active in the last 5 years due to their nurse-driven aftercare programs. They currently send volunteers to Champ Camp, prevention and outreach events, host our monthly Central Valley Burn Survivor Support Group, as well as acting as chaperones at various AARBF Survivor Events. The Burn Unit has also recently began supporting AARBF through our Bows for Dough fundraiser, in which their team was able to raise an amazing $2,070, despite joining the fundraiser 2 weeks after it began! The team says that they intend to participate again and, this year, take home the win!
The entire CRMC – Burn Unit team has been involved in various fundraising and burn survivor service efforts for AARBF however, we were able to speak with Shana Henry, the Aftercare Specialist & Nurse regarding their Volunteer Appreciation Award win. She said, “We feel it’s imperative to build community partnerships with those that are able to assist us in the complex care of burn survivors. We are so thankful for AARBF’s programs that serve as adjunct resources for our patients. To date our favorite AARBF activity is champ camp. We try to send a couple staff members yearly as well as bring a team to participate in the chili cook-off. We use this event to build comradery amongst are team and further engage our team members. They love it!”
The CRMC Burn Unit is a crucial community partner and without them, we would not be able to accomplish the good work we do in the Central Valley!
The 2019 Volunteer Appreciation Champy-on Award winner is someone who is a staple and leader for Champ Camp. Someone who has been an innovator at Champ Camp and who has made changes to camp for the best! This year has two winners however, some may argue they are inseparably one: Mike “Otter” and Evie “Mouser” Gonzales. Read their volunteer story below and please consider giving $48 for our 48th Anniversary on April 15th in their honor. Help us reach our goal of $4,800 for 48 years of service by making your donation here.
1997 was Mike “Otter” Gonzales’ first year at Champ Camp, however he had been involved with AARBF since 1988 raising funds for the organization through the wildly successful South San Francisco Firefighters Golf Tournament. Otter took over organizing the tournament in 1988, after his good friend was burned. He wanted the funds to go to AARBF as he saw it as an organization truly making a positive difference in the lives of burn survivors. Evie “Mouser” Gonzales also helped her husband, Otter, with the coordination of the golf tournament. One day, a past camp director came to the South San Francisco Fire Department needing Counselors for Champ Camp. It was then that both Otter and Mouser decided they wanted to volunteer at camp. Otter said, “You go to camp thinking you want to give back… and you do… but it’s like anything else that you do when you work hard at it, you get back more than what you gave. The experiences are rewarding as heck and so is the networking. Watching kids that don’t have the same ability to do things because of their physical condition, and you see them accomplishing despite of that because we aren’t telling them they can’t. You have a great group of people who are focused on somebody else’s good and when you have a community that is doing that, there is no better feeling in the world.”
After camp for a few years, they also volunteered at the Northern CA Holiday Party and the Annual Fishing Trip, now known as the Outdoor Trip because we’ve added rock climbing as an activity. Mouser specifically volunteered as the lead for the Fishing Trip for approximately 5 years and while she was busy with that, Otter volunteered on our Board, eventually becoming our Board President. In 2004 Otter retired from the South San Francisco Fire Department and decided to take a small step back from AARBF to allow other volunteers to move in and lead. Mouser has been one of our ‘camp moms’ for 6 or 7 years and we have no idea what we’d do without her! When asked why Mouser continues to volunteer year after year she said, “I keep coming back because every year because I just love all the positivity and seeing the love and comradery that the kids have for each other. It re-energizes my batteries to life is good.”
We asked both Otter and Mouser for a fun and/or impactful memory and Mouser had to say, “As camp mom, someone will come in and say to me ‘I need this’ and I can MacGyver a solution. I remember one year some counselors came in and asked for something outrageous but I’m so gullible that I wanted to fix that… then they admitted they were messing with me but I just wanted to help.” For Otter, it was, “Going to Waterslide Day with a survivor named Matthew, he was a big kid and never wanted to do much, couldn’t figure out what he wanted. So he wanted to go down the half pipe slide but he was scared. Well I finally got him going on it and we get to the top and I realized that he and I are over the weight limit and we get on this thing and we’re flying down and I’m having to put my foot up from keeping us from going over the side but the look of on his face made my day.”
“I think there are a lot of organizations that deserve time but for me personally, AARBF was a great fit because of my career choice… it was the follow through, like going on a call for someone getting burned on a fire, and it was a feeling of completing the circle that I couldn’t do just as a firefighter. I think that volunteering in this organization is different than others because we are staff lead and volunteer driven. I think you can have a bigger impact. Our staff is grateful for the assistance of the volunteers on the trips.” – Mike “Otter” Gonzales
People's Choice Award
The 2019 Award winner is Tina “Skittles” Martinez.
At the age of only four years old, Tina “Skittles” Martinez came to Champ Camp for the first time as a burn survivor, even though the age to begin at camp is five. In fact, Skittles was there for the very first year of Champ Camp and has attended every year since, except for a 2 year break required (at the time) between being a camper and a Counselor-in-Training (CIT). She has been involved with camp for so long, in fact, that she said that some of her favorite campers when she began as a counselor are now CITs and counselors themselves! Skittles said the reason she continued at camp as a CIT and then as a Counselor was because she was, “giving back what I got, camp was an amazing experience and I want to give the kids that too. Camp is a love like no other, it’s the best family that you never asked for.” Currently, Skittles is working as an Office Technician at a Men’s Prison and said that she makes it clear when she begins a new job that she will need the 9 days off for Champ Camp each year otherwise she cannot take the position. Now that’s commitment!! In additional to being a volunteer as a Champ Camp Counselor, Skittles has also volunteered at our Southern CA Holiday Party, the Annual Surf Trip, and other survivor events.
We asked Skittles for an impactful memory of volunteering with AARBF and she shared, “5 years ago I had a 1st time camper from out of state that knew nothing about California or Champ Camp. She was super shy and shut-down. She had recently gotten her burn injury and still had pressure garments. She didn’t want to talk, always looked down at the floor, and her clothes were all pants & long sleeves which we know is not the best for our “pleasantly warm” days at camp. I was very unsure of how the week was going to play out but I was determined to make sure she had the best possible week. Little by little we made progress… she started lifting her head, chatting with others, smiling & laughing, and by the end of the week… transformation! She wore a dress to the dance, make-up & all, dancing, laughing, & getting out of camp the exact experience I’d hoped for her. I had a great cabin that year, an absolutely amazing week, but that one special girl, she made my week! I was able to give back the camp experience that so many other amazing women gave to me over the years.”
Lenora (Miki) “Quincy” Mathes, fellow Champ Camp Counselor and Burn Survivor had this to say when nominating Skittles, “As an adult, female burn survivor, Skittles has been an amazing Champ Camp volunteer and role model. I remember being a camper in an age unit below this amazing woman with her daring and standout hairstyles, clothing, and feisty personality. I remember looking up to her and becoming more confident in my own life and in my own style with an afar admiration. As adults, we have been co-counselors twice and I continue to see her instill this same confidence and inspiration in our campers. As adults, I have also grown to learn more about this amazing woman in her personal life including friends, marriage, family and profession. She continues to inspire me to be more playful and more confident in everything I do. She has never missed a year of Camp and I think she may be the longest person to be involved in AARBF Champ Camp through being a camper, CIT and counselor. I would like to see her have a more leadership role eventually in our AARBF community.”
Ruch Family Circle Award
The 2019 Volunteer Appreciation Ruch Family Circle Award is the highest award we can bestow! This is a person (or couple) that has made a significant impact and difference at AARBF. Someone who has volunteered in multiple facets and has committed many years to serving. Someone who often makes you think to yourself, “How would we ever do all this without ____?!” Our winner(s) of the 2019 Ruch Family Circle Award are non-other than David “Shakespeare” and Karen “Smiley” Miller. Read their volunteer story below and please consider giving $48 for our 48th Anniversary on April 15th in their honor. Help us reach our goal of $4,800 for 48 years of service by making your donation.
Karen “Smiley” Miller has been volunteering at AARBF’s Champ Camp since 1991, whereas David “Shakespeare” Miller has been volunteering since 1993. Smiley was introduced to Champ Camp through her work with the fire service and her involvement coordinating our Peninsula Firefighter’s Burn Relay fundraiser. Shakespeare became involved because of Pali, one of the original Champ Camp Directors was a roommate of his from college. Shakespeare and Smiley met and fell in love at camp and were married in 1996. Shakespeare and Smiley have done it all, from being co-directors at Champ Camp to serving on our board in all the capacities. They both have done every job there is at Champ Camp and Smiley also ran our Northern CA Holiday Parties.
“For us, it’s all about the kids. The kids are just amazing. I love the creativity part and the fun but for us, it was really about how great the kids are and our whole goal was getting the kids as active as possible and trying new things,” said Smiley when asked why he has spent so much of his life volunteering with AARBF. “We were invited to Lea “Kamikaze” Elder’s wedding and we remember when she was a camper! Seeing all the amazing things these kids have become, seeing them grow up, is why we do it. We would do anything and everything for these kids.”
A fun memory for Shakespeare was at, “Campfire – there was a time when we were trying to amp up the campfire and Riverway would come out and do a flash mob (first one ever). The energy after it was so amazing that the counselors complained that they couldn’t get the kids to sleep.” Smiley’s fun memory was, “I organized reading to the kids outside in a witch costume and didn’t realize there were real spiders crawling all over them! Went down in history!”