2021 Volunteer Appreciation Awards

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2021 Volunteer Appreciation Awards

Administration Awards

AARBF’s Central California 2021 Administration Award recipient is Pradnya “Pretzel” Bergdahl. She continuously gives her all for our foundation and we cannot be prouder to have her be a part of our AARBF family!

Pradnya was introduced to AARBF in 2011 after she was injured at the young age of 10. Little did she know that she would become a vital resource to our Central California region.

During her journey as a camper, Pradnya has attended a number of AARBF events. Some of her favorites include; Champ Camp, Central Valley Burn Relay, Monterey Bay Aquarium Sleepover, Phoenix World Burn Congress, Young Adult Summit and the Women’s Empowerment Webinar.

Over her years as a camper, turned CIT, Pradnya has worn numerous hats. Some of these hats include; being the President of AARBF’s Young Adult Council, a member of our social media team, and a presenter for our Development team.

Recently, Pradnya has introduced another hat to her collection. She has been the Central California Intern for the past 6 months. She has done an outstanding job and never ceases to amazing the foundation with her ideas, willingness to work, and readiness to assist. We are so proud of Pradnya and the growth she continues to make.

One of Pradnya’s favorite memories during her time with the foundation was at Champ Camp. As soon as she stepped off of the bus at Wonder Valley, she was hit with the realization that she was not alone. She had found her community that would love and support her right where she was at. “They understood the trials and tribulations that went along with a burn injury and recovery process”. Pradnya says, “I often remember storing up all of the love and acceptance from the foundation events and saving it for a rainy day.”

Thank you, Pradnya for all of the constant support you provide along with your beaming personality and smile.

AARBF’s Northern California 2021 Administration Award recipient is the wonderful Cara “Care Bear” Goodman!

Cara “Care Bear” Goodman was working in a burn unit in Nevada where she had the opportunity to take 25 children to a burn camp hosted by another burn foundation. She didn’t quite feel the camp was the best fit for their burn unit and turned to AARBF to learn more about Champ Camp. Though she knew what to expect from a burn camp, she quickly realized Champ Camp was a whole different experience! Cara’s experience with Champ Camp led to more involvement with AARBF through the Young Adult Summit. Soon she was asked to join AARBF’s Council of Advisors. At a retreat, she as offered the opportunity to start the Young Adult Council (YAC) and to join the Board of Directors. She readily agreed to both! Cara embraced the opportunity to help foster these amazing young survivors, through YAC, and really give them a chance to rise into their own leadership role. Cara says the highlight of her month is when YAC meets! What has been most exciting for Cara has been the Board’s relationship with YAC, both sides had to commit and to embrace their role and Cara is so excited that both sides are fully diving in. The board genuinely supports the YAC and allows them to bring and present ideas and has treated them as an equal.

Cara cannot talk enough about each of the individuals on the YAC. She is so proud of all they have done and the amount they have grown and excited for the future of the Young Adult Council. Thank you, Cara, for helping our YAC members thrive!

AARBF’s Southern California 2021 Administration Award recipient is Geoffrey “Zorro” Russell! Geoff has made himself an invaluable member of the Southern California team!

Geoffrey “Zorro” Russell is a relatively new volunteer. He began volunteering with AARBF for Champ Camp in 2019. Zorro first learned about AARBF through a friend, Monkey, who described AARBF as an amazing organization. Once Geoff went through Champ Camp in 2019, he was hooked. He volunteered for The Getaway in 2019 and soon he became a regular volunteer in the Southern CA office. He came into the office weekly to help with various projects, like reorganizing cabinets, getting rid of various items, filing paperwork, and shredding. Geoff also went through our prevention materials and counted, sorted, and organized all of it! Whatever task was needed, Geoff was there to help! Geoff has truly gone above and beyond for all of us at the Southern California office.  Geoff says, “I love volunteering for AARBF because it’s an organization that is dedicated to enriching lives and elevating the burn community! And Cubby is amazing!!”

Thank you, Geoff for all you do to keep our Southern California office running smoothly!

Survivor Support Services Awards

AARBF’s Central California 2021 Survivor Support Services Award recipient is our cherished Kelly “Sunflower” Dern. She continuously gives her all for our foundation and we cannot be prouder to have her be a part of our AARBF family!

Kelly was born and raised in Fresno. She got involved in the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation the summer of 2017. Her husband was a Fire Captain for the Fresno Fire Department serving 28 years. On March 29, 2015, a roof collapsed underneath him, sending him into the burning structure below. He was stuck inside and had to be rescued by his fellow crew members. They say that he only had seconds to live. He suffered 3rd and 4th degree burns to 70% of his body. She spent close to seven months in the hospital, never leaving her husband’s side. The Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation was there for her along with the amazing fire family. Because of this constant love and support, Kelly vowed that as soon as she could, she would give back to this amazing community that was her rock during a very terrifying time. After attending Champ Camp for the first time in 2017, Kelly knew that she was hooked and would be a lifelong volunteer. She says, “I am passionate about helping other survivors. This actually ended up being a huge inspiration for myself as well. I see the determination in these kids’ faces and it encourages me to never stop giving up.” She says that she will be with the foundation, “for ever and ever and ever and ever!”

Kelly continues to be a part of the foundation because, “I enjoy it and believe what the foundation stands for. Being a part of a burn survivor’s life and helping them get through things is very rewarding.”

In addition to Champ Camp, Kelly is also part of many regional events year-round including the Ski Trip, Clovis Dinner and Dance, and the Holiday Party. Recently, Kelly has been a part of our Expression Series. She has led 2 groups of survivors, community partners and caregivers through a step-by-step lesson in watercolor painting. Kelly is one talented painter! She has learned to channel her healing journey into a positive outlet – painting. She wants to share her talents with others in hopes that they, too, will find healing and solace in art. Kelly is also one of the foundation’s peer supporters. She hopes that she can use her experience, to give someone else the much-needed support they need to navigate a burn injury and the healing process.

Her experience with AARBF includes so many fun memories, such as, dressing up all of her campers during Champ Camp and watching their faces light up when she would pull out tutus and tiaras for them to wear. Her favorite costume she and her campers have worn was “the superheroes, of course!! All of these kids are superheroes in my eyes!” She also loves being able to see all of the amazing counselors from all across the country come together for one cause. She says that these volunteers make her heart happy and fills her cup.

We appreciate your heart and dedication to our foundation. We are so thankful you are part of AARBF!

AARBF’s Northern California 2021 Survivor Support Services Award recipient is our very own Rana “Lil Bear” Stephan!

Rana first became involved with the foundation around 2011. She was in Nursing school and was looking for a way to give back during her free time. She remembered AARBF from a time her Grandmother was in the hospital reached out to learn more. Rana began by assisting in the office with prevention programming but she was always hearing about Champ Camp and the survivor services part of the foundation. Around the time she was graduating from school, she became a Champ Camp counselor and discovered how much she loved supporting burn survivors. Through a twist of fate, Rana was volunteering for an AARBF holiday party at SCVMC and saw the name of another Champ Camp counselor, reached out, and eventually found herself on a new path in her nursing career. Rana will tell you that it is through the foundation she launched her nursing career, met her husband and made many lasting friendships with other Champ Camp volunteers.

When asked to join the AARBF Board of Directors, Rana was very excited and honored to be named the head of the Survivor Service committee!

As a nurse, total patient care is very important to Rana. She is passionate about supporting survivors from when she meets them to getting them connected with the foundations (AARBF, SJFFBF and Phoenix) to help them on their survivor journey. She is co-facilitating the SCVMC support group and always making sure her patients and their families receive the after care and emotional support they need. Rana feels that being able to connect with patients after they recover, aids in improving herself as a nurse.

Rana has been a part of YAS, Getaway, Monterey bay aquarium, ski trip and outdoor camp. Thank you, Rana for all you do to help the Northern Region and beyond!

AARBF’s Southern California 2021 Survivor Support Services Award recipient is the fabulous Cindy “Cinderella” Rutter!

Cindy began volunteering for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation in 1991. Cindy has been a part of YAS, The Retreat, The Aquarium of the Pacific event-SCA, The Getaway (Cindy says it her favorite!). In 2019, Cindy Rutter and Ruth Rimmer began planning a new program for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation called the “The Women’s Burn Survivor Retreat”. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic they transitioned it to a virtual program and it was held in July as the Women’s Empowerment Webinar. Cindy joined the AARBF executive board from 2005-2007: then transitioned to the Advisory board and has been a part of different committees from 2008-2021. In 2018 Cindy began meeting with burn survivors offering therapy pro-bono for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation. The Caregivers and Family support group is facilitated by Cindy, once a month.

Cindy is a true advocate for burn survivors. Cindy is passionate about helping those that have been through trauma, both burn survivors and their families alike. Cindy says “I come to give, but I receive so much more than I give: I leave motivated and inspired by everyone that is part of these programs”. We are very fortunate to have Cindy, a nationally recognized burn community advocate, giving her time to AARBF survivors and their families!

Thank you, Cindy for all you do to support burn survivors in our Southern California region and throughout the state!

Fundraising Awards

AARBF’s Central California 2021 Fundraising Award goes to the wonderful Ben Blankenship and the entire Hell of a Half Marathon Team at Race Time Services!

Hell of a Half Marathon was created in 2011, and is a 13.1 mile long marathon that takes place annually during the month of August in Exeter, CA. This year the team will be celebrating the 10th anniversary for Hell of a Half Marathon! Thanks to the partnership with Exeter Fire department and creator Scott Newton, the marathon began raising funds for AARBF when the race was first created starting with raising $500! Every year, the amount fundraised has increased thanks to the amazing support of the community and especially the racing participants!

The race was then taken over by Ben Blankenship and the team who weren’t aware of AARBF at first but decided to continue to support Scott’s passion for AARBF through the race. After continued research, meeting burn survivors and learning more about the resources and programs AARBF hosts, like Champ Camp (locally), the team agreed that AARBF was more than worthwhile to support. Ben mentioned that he was especially interested in Champ Camp because it is local to the central valley. Through pictures and videos he learned how special Champ Camp is for burn survivors and it makes supporting AARBF that much more special!

The team’s goal is to continue to support AARBF and all of its programs and services by striving to exceed their previous donation year after year. He is thankful for all of the racers that endure the pleasantly warm weather annually and donate to AARBF.

Hell of a Half Marathon is scheduled to take place August 7, 2021! We are so grateful and appreciative of the Race Time Services team and the racers that help make this event happen and thrive! We look forward to being a part of the marathon this year and are thankful for your partnership and dedication.

AARBF’s Northern California 2021 Fundraising Award goes to our dedicated Jon Johnston along with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District!

Jon is the Fire Marshal and Division Chief for Menlo Park Fire Department. For over 20 years, Jon has been greatly involved with AARBF fundraising through his agency’s annual Menlo Park Pancake Breakfast and other volunteer roles.  We are looking forward to what will be their 21st anniversary this year! Their pancake breakfast has been an area favorite and raises about $12,000 – $15,000 every year!

Not only has Jon been dedicated to coordinating the annual pancake breakfast, but he has served on the AARBF Board of Directors, assists with the department’s involvement in the Burn Relay, and continues to partner with AARBF in burn prevention education!

In addition, Jon and Mike “Otter” Gonzales teamed up to create a “how-to” manual for pancake breakfasts which has played a large role in starting up several others in the area.

Burn prevention is very important to Jon. The Menlo Park Fire Protection District was one of the first departments to start up the Firefighters in Safety Education (FISE) program and it is still ongoing to this day. FISE training is required for all new recruits!

Jon mentioned, “In my career I started out as a public education officer and finding means to educate the community was my goal and a partnership with AARBF was a great resource. With the department’s already established involvement it was a perfect fit for me to get involved with AARBF as well in other ways like being a part of the board. AARBF was also a natural funds recipient to be able to support through education and our pancake breakfast. It is important to be leaders in your field, so being a part of the board was a great opportunity to further that mission through the department and for my career as well.”

Through his dedication and support, Jon is ensuring the continued mission of creating a safer California and an empowered community of burn survivors.

We appreciate Jon immensely and are honored to be able to recognize his passion and dedication for the work we accomplish together!

AARBF’s Southern California 2021 Fundraising Award goes to our fabulous John Patterson with Red Pointe Roofing!

John Patterson is the Vice President of Red Pointe Roofing (RPR) as well as a dedicated community partner for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation. John has been involved in the golf event committee with Red Pointe Roofing that spearheads our Southern California Golf Tournament with amazing enthusiasm and success. RPR alone has been a major financial sponsor by donating close to $50,000 over the past 7 years!

Despite the difficulties from last year and being unable to put together the golf tournament, they continued their generous contribution to AARBF and supported us when it was needed the most.

The Southern California Golf Tournament was founded by Ken Hewett thanks to his connection to the Arcadia Fire Department. Ken was an Arcadia Police officer who retired and became involved in the roofing industry. He spearheaded the golf tournament for about 30 years and retired a couple of years ago handing over the tournament to John Patterson. Ken was able to get major roofing contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers to participate and still sponsor the tournament to this day.

John mentioned that the reason they continue to support AARBF is first and foremost due to their loyalty to AARBF. Other major reasons include the people in the organization, the cause, and Champ Camp. It is encouraging that they can easily see how their investment plays out and what our dollars can do. Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces makes it worthwhile. A bonus on top is that this is the big yearly event that all of the sponsors look forward to, it is a fun gathering but primarily it is fulfilling to know we are able to make a big difference.

We truly appreciate their commitment to strengthening our partnership. We are excited to have the Southern California Golf Tournament scheduled for 2021 and are keeping our fingers crossed in hopes that we will be able to have the event.

We are thankful to John and the Red Pointe Roofing Team for keeping AARBF in mind and for their continued partnership.

Prevention Awards

AARBF’s Central California 2021 Prevention Award goes to our wonderful, one-of-a-kind, Alison Clark.

She has a very close relationship to the foundation. She is the cousin of our very own Alisa Ann Ruch! She knew about the foundation growing up but did not get involved in it until her 20’s. She helped to start a chapter of AARBF in Las Vegas to help support local firefighters and the kids they were sending to Champ Camp. A few years ago, Alison was offered a seat on the Prevention Committee. Within a few months, she was promoted to President of the Prevention Committee. We are so thankful for all of the work Alison has done for AARBF.

It is an absolute pleasure having her as part of our Prevention Committee. She has moved mountains when it comes to our prevention messaging and keeping California safe from fires and burns. In addition to the Prevention Committee, Alison has played an integral part in our N.I.C.K (Neurotypical/diverse Independent Communication Kit) for Fire and Burn Safety, which helps bring fire and burn safety education to individuals with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and communication challenges. She has also had her hand in our Safe and Warm campaign to help aid the homeless in burn prevention.

Alison says that the people within the foundation is what keeps her coming back year after year. “I love the energy and that everyone says ‘we will find a way’”. She says that she loves that the foundation is very solution oriented and we are motivated to make an impact. “We just never give up!”

One of her favorite AARBF memories is driving up to Cambria to be a part of our Young Adult Summit. She says that she loves being able to connect with the kids. Also, because of her family history Alison has loved being able to go to different awards ceremonies, luncheons and dinners to celebrate all of the volunteers and staff. “It is amazing to see how Alisa’s memory has been shared and how much of a positive impact she has made on so many people. To me, it is remarkable just how many people believe in our mission and are willing to bend over backwards to support the kids, survivors and one another. It is such a family environment.”

Alison, your hard work and dedication to the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation does not go unnoticed. We are thrilled to have you be a part of our AARBF family!

AARBF’s Northern California 2021 Prevention Award goes to our energetic Kari Rogers along with the Santa Clara City Fire Department!

The Santa Clara City Fire Department is one of our newest departments partnering with AARBF through the Firefighters in Safety Education (FISE) Program. We love the enthusiasm and dedication Santa Clara City FD has shown for this program and that is due to the leadership of Kari Rogers. Kara has not only worked hard to build a great relationship with Santa Clara Schools, but she has gone above and beyond when it comes to prevention efforts by joining the AARBF Prevention Subcommittee.

Through working with the AARBF Prevention Subcommittee, Kari not only provides her local community with burn prevention education, her participation influences education throughout the state of California! Kari loves serving on the subcommittee because she feels it has opened her up to new connections and ideas. She is drawn to prevention and enjoys her volunteer role.

Although Santa Clara City FD’s first full year with the FISE program was interrupted by the pandemic, we are anxiously waiting for the day they can get back into the schools. We know Kari’s preparation and relationship building will surely lead to one of our most active and efficient FISE Departments!

Thank you, Kari and all of the members of Santa Clara City Fire Department, for your dedication and support of our FISE program and our prevention goals!

AARBF’s Southern California 2021 Prevention Award goes to our enthusiastic, Andrew “Monkey” Mersmann.

Andrew “Monkey” Mersmann is an author and media consultant as well as a proud long-time volunteer camp counselor and board member for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation. Andrew is a writer and co-creator of burn prevention education materials and programs, including the fire safety puppet show “Lucky the Fire-Burping Dragon” and S.P.A.R.C. (Senior Prevention and Risk Conversations) specifically focused on fire safety and burn prevention for older adults.

Andrew first worked with the foundation in the early 90’s touring California schools with the fire safety assembly program (before FISE became FISE). Then he moved to New York/East Coast and moved back to California 10 years ago. He volunteered for Champ Camp the first time in 2012 and says, “I’ve been Monkeying around ever since.” He has served many years on the board, first as a regular board member 2 years; Vice President 2 years; Board President 2 years; immediate past president and simultaneously Chair of Communications Committee almost 2 years (his term ends in 2021). He served on the Development Committee as well.

Andrew says, “My “Ah Ha” moments get recreated every time I connect with my foundation family of survivors/volunteers/staff. I pinch myself how lucky I am to have found these amazing humans and how lucky I am to play a role in being of service–I really can’t imagine my life without AARBF and all of the people.”

Thank you, Andrew for helping to create burn prevention programs to help educate those most vulnerable to injury!

Community Partner Award

AARBF’s 2021 Community Partner Award is the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Burn Unit!

The Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Burn Unit (SCVMC) has been a long-term partner of AARBF. SCVMC has worked with AARBF to help support burn survivors throughout their journey. From their arrival at the burn center, we have worked together to provide resources to both the patient and their family/support system.

SCVMC and AARBF host a monthly support group for survivors in the region. They also assist with our Peer Support programming.

SCVMC has been a pillar in the burn community and we are grateful for our relationship with them. The Burn Center has an incredible staff who strive to support their patients above and beyond expectations. We are also proud to have many of the staff as volunteers for AARBF!

In addition to the burn care and support of their patients, SCVMC opens their doors and hearts to all of the Central and Northern burn community each year through the annual Holiday Party.

We are so fortunate to have such a valued relationship with SCVMC and we look forward to many more years working with them! Thank you for your partnership!

Champy-On Award

AARBF’s 2021 Champy-On Award goes to someone who has been an essential person to Champ Camp for more than 20 years! Congratulations to none other than our amazing Steven “Knuckles” Knuckles.

Steven is all things safety. He allows us to have a safe camp experience! We like to him of him as our Wonder Valley Ranch Liaison. He works with the lifeguards, ranch staff, Champ Camp volunteers to make sure that each camper has a safe and memorable time at camp.

As an “young pup” Steven was a part of the Central Coast burn Relay in the late 80’s. Steven was introduced to the Foundation through Smiley in 1994. After driving through miles and miles of orange orchards leading up to Wonder Valley, Steven found himself in a place that would soon change his life! 26 years later, Steven is still an incredible asset to Champ Camp.

One of his favorite memories from Champ Camp is seeing kids grow in their confidence year after year. There is one survivor in particular that holds a special place in Steven’s heart. This young survivor showed up to camp his first year in long sleeves, jeans, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. He spent all week dressed this way! He was a very shy camper. But the next year, he sauntered off the bus in a tank top, board shorts, cowboy hats and of course his boots! Over the course of a year, his confidence shot through the roof. Steven said that this young survivor was teaching other campers how to use a lasso! Steven says that seeing this growth in survivors really made him reflect back and think about just how much himself and the Foundation positive impact each survivor that walks through camp.

Steven says that the people, volunteers and survivors, are what keeps him coming back to camp year after year. “The quality of people at camp made refocus a lot of things in my life. It made me focus on what I should strive to be like. If I could be half the person these volunteers are, I would be happy”.

We are so thankful for the amazing work that Steven has and continues to do for AARBF and Champ Camp. The time you commit to our foundation does not go unnoticed and we are so happy that you all found your way to become part of the AARBF family!

People's Choice Award

AARBF’s 2021 People’s Choice Award goes to the unstoppable David “Shakespeare” Miller! 

David “Shakespeare” Miller has been volunteering for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation since 1993. Dave first became involved when he attended Champ Camp at the urging of Pali, one of the original Champ Camp Directors, and his roommate from college. Dave met his wife Smiley and fell in love at camp, and they were married in 1996. Dave has done it all, from being the Camp Director at Champ Camp to serving on our Board of Directors in all capacities.  He has done every job there is at Champ Camp and has attend almost all AARBF events.

“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.

A fun memory for David 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.”

Fellow volunteers and families describe Dave as energetic, witty, and with a huge heart! One volunteer stated, when nominating Dave for this award, “Shakes is a legend, you hear his name and the stories at camp, and he is all that and so much more. “

Thank you, Dave “Shakespeare” for your many years of service and for all that you do for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation!

Ruch Family Circle Award

AARBF’s 2021 Ruch Family Circle Award goes to the fabulous James “Jamba” Bosch!

James “Jamba” Bosch, LMFT has been involved with the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation since 1994 when he became a Champ Camp Counselor with the Rancheros. Since then, he has volunteered for YAS, Ski Trips, Stop Drop and Roll Ride and many Regional Events. He was hired to work for AARBF as a part-time Program Director- then soon became full-time employment, all while leading AARBF to relationships with Burn Units throughout the state of California. He also led The Family Camp. James helped develop the “What Now? Going Home: A guide for Burn Survivors and Their Loved Ones” brochure, the Counselor in Training (CIT) program and The Back-to-School program with Dragon Story.  He was part of a team that helped move all of these projects forward. James has served on the AARBF Board in NCA, and currently serves in the Advisory Board: this includes work on many committees.

James says “Thank you for the honor, I feel undeserving of this award-, this has been a labor of love, and I believe in the AARBF mission”. One of James’ fondest memories while volunteering for the organizations was a magical moment, he says “one year during the ski trip while driving in the car with burn survivors, and other volunteers- we were all singing and it was then that I realized the connection between all the volunteers & the kids- there is no connection like it- when you can fully be yourself”.

We feel very fortunate to have this long-term relationship with James Bosch. He is state-wide and nationally known for his work and dedication to the burn community. James is often the first person who comes to mind when the foundation is looking at improving current survivor services or starting something new. Last year, when we experienced the lock-downs and restrictions, James jumped in and provided us with helpful videos, tip sheets and more for our new Multimedia Resource Library. You will often find his contributions featured on our social media #WellnessWednesday posts.

Thank you, James for all that you do to support our wonderful burn community!