Mike “Otter” and Evie “Mouser” Gonzales
Our Champy-On Award goes to someone who has been an essential person to Champ Camp for more than 10 years! This year it won’t be awarded to one person or two, it is going to three of the most essential individuals at Champ Camp … Our Camp Moms!! Our Camp Mom was started with Teddy and is now the loving team of Soupy and Mouser!
Camp Moms at Champ Camp are truly what you would think it is, they have everything, and anything needed or missing. If they don’t have something they will go back into town to get it for you. They make sure no camper and counselor are left without any essential items like; sleeping bags, clothes, toiletries, etc. They are also there to lend an ear, as all camp moms have been a counselor before, they are more than happy to lend advice for those new or those experiencing a new event or emotion. They ensure our cabins are kept clean throughout the week by awarding the cleanest cabin every day! They also make sure that everyone has snacks after rest hour for the whole week. Their work does not end once everyone leaves Champ Camp, they work year-round collecting essential items to ensure everyone has a great time and have everything they need to stay safe, clean and taken care of.
The “Camp Mom” title started in 1988 when Marilyn “Teddy” Erickson, along with one more staff were asked to help out with tasks like laundry, making town runs and helping out with the kiddos. Then it all started to build from there, Teddy shared that she gradually caught on to what were essential things to bring to camp and she started collecting items year-round to be ready for the next summer. For the next 25 years Teddy took on the camp mom role and grew it into what we know it to be today. Teddy, knowing she wouldn’t be able to keep the camp-mom role for forever (although she would’ve if she could) began searching for the next camp mom. The only difference is that she didn’t just have one person in mind, she had the great idea of searching for a dynamic team of two! As of 2013, we are so grateful to have Evie “Mouser” Gonzalez and Cindy “Soupy” Mutoza are our Camp Moms!
Teddy came to the Foundation through her husband who is now a retired firefighter from Fresno Fire. She started out as an ambassador for AARBF, then became part of the board (was part of the brainstorming for camp), volunteered to drive a kiddo to camp when she was asked to stay for the week and although at first she was unsure, she said yes and was immediately hooked! Her first year as a camp counselor was in 1986, and recalls that “Lala” and “Skittles” her in her cabin group that year. Having to care for girls was a learning curve for her since her children were all boys. After a couple of years, Champ Camp was moved to Wonder Valley Ranch where she became Camp Mom for the next 25 years!
Teddy shared with us that she continues to volunteer and support AARBF any way she can because, “it is the fact that here is an organization who started helping a group of people that were unknown and underserved. I was hooked through the prevention education program. If I could keep one child from going through what I have seen other burn survivor children go through, then it is worth it to me. It seemed like a really good cause when I started and then camp hooked me even more!”
Mouser also came to AARBF because her husband “Otter” was a fireman that was helping with a golf tournament. Mouser began helping out as the event started to grow and in 1997 counselors were needed, so both signed up and her volunteerism with the Foundation (especially with Champ Camp) blossomed from there!
Mouser continues to volunteer for AARBF, “because of the kids, the love, the comradery and the giving back. I feel very fortunate because I met my best friend at camp. I get to spend a whole week with her. We have so much fun together, it is like being on vacation although it is a TON of work!”
Soupy just like the other camp moms was also brought in through her husband being a firefighter (Beautiful trend)! While at a burn relay dinner, Teddy was invited to do a presentation about AARBF. Throughout the presentation, Soupy’s interest sparked and in 1999 she filled out her Champ Camp counselor application and has been hooked ever since!
Soupy shared, “It is hard to explain camp to people, but it just grabs you. For me when I drive through the gates of Wonder Valley Ranch, all the stress of the year just melts away. I remember one year my husband called me asking for help when he was back home, and I told him that I didn’t even know what day it was! You don’t deal with the real world when you are there. It has become my passion.”
Mouser and Soupy were co-counselors for 7 camps and specifically in the Wrangler (Survivors ages 11-13) unit since 2000! Teddy kept talking to them about the Camp Mom role and let them know that they already make a great team as counselors and would just be an awesome duo as Camp Moms! They both shared that they have found a best friend in each other through this experience which makes it that much more special!
All three camp moms have dedicated so many years of their lives to the Foundation and have so many funny and moving stories to share! We had to select just a couple to share, but if you ever run into then at an event I am sure they would be more than happy to share so many more!
Teddy shared that her fondest memory is one time that she was at a department store she heard someone yell from across the room, “TEDDY!!!” She turned around and it was a kiddo from camp! “I see one of my camp kids run toward me along with a very panicked mother running after them! I introduced myself and explained how their child knew me. It is a very special feeling I get every time it happens because it still does. Even last year at camp they just run to hug me. Being involved has been one of the greatest joys in my life and it has to do with getting to know the kids.”
Soupy and Mouser shared that they have a self-care routine throughout the week that helps them stay sane throughout all of the stress of making sure everyone is taken care of, and that is … Scaring each other! Soupy says, “Mouser scares very easily so I have a lot of fun with that, but she brought it upon herself because she started it!” They are a duo that just works so effortlessly together, they described it as. “Soupy is very organized and Mouser is like; when are we going to play.” Since 2013, they have gotten in a new routine to make sure they are as organized as possible (took very long at first) so that they can also enjoy being with the survivors and counselors as much as possible! “We’ve been fortunate enough to develop a trust with the counselor and help them by giving advice, listening and not betraying their trust!”
Camps moms are a great example of how impactful camp is not just for the burn survivors but also for the volunteers!
All three of our camp moms are heavily involved year-round with collecting essential items but also being a part of other regional events whenever possible. We would be very empty without our beloved Champ Camp – Camp Moms and there are no words to describe the love and appreciation we have for these three women. The work that you do does not go unnoticed and we are so happy that you all found your way to become part of the AARBF family!