May 2022 Burn Bulletin

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May 2022 Burn Bulletin

AARBF Attends Fresno Fire Symposium

AARBF’s McKenzie Dern was excited to spend the afternoon with our friends at Fresno Fire Department and various departments across the state at their annual Firefighters Symposium. There was an opportunity for the firefighters in attendance to donate to the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation. The next day, McKenzie was presented with a $2,000 donation from the Training Officers Section and the California Fire Chief’s Association on behalf of the Fresno Symposium. While there, McKenzie was able to speak about AARBF and Champ Camp to the approximately 100 people in attendance.

Having Fun at the Los Angeles Zoo

We had a great time with burn survivors from the Southern California region who joined us at the Los Angeles Zoo on April 2, 2022. We had eight burn survivor children and one CIT. Everyone had a wonderful time enjoying all of the animals at the Zoo, eating lunch, and sharing picture time. We could not have asked for better weather – it was a beautiful, cool day!

Joining us were our fabulous volunteers: Fabiola “Hamster” Velaport, Andrew “Monkey ” Mersmann, Chris “Buc” McKeever, Jasmine “Rajah” Velaport, Isabel “Belle” Dominguez, Toni “Hot Cheeto” Loera, and the CIT was Alyssa “Sunny” Mercado.

Although we will not be returning to the Zoo again until next April, be sure to watch for other Southern California events taking place later this year.

The Central Valley Burn Relay Returns as an In-Person Event

On April 7, 2022, the 10th Annual Central Valley Burn Relay raised over $15,000 for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation’s programs and services. Although temperatures reached into the 90s, the caravan stuck to their route and successfully made all of their scheduled stops!

The Central Valley Burn Relay includes Madera County Fire Station 7, Clovis Fire Station 1, Sanger Fire Department, CALFIRE/Fresno County Fire, Reedley City Fire Department, Kingsburg Fire, Selma Fire Station, Fresno Firefighters Local No. 202 IAFF, and the Fresno Fire Chief’s Foundation.

AARBF’s Central Regional Manager, McKenzie Dern and Development Manager, Katie Szymczak were joined by two burn survivors, Samantha Calzo and Peter “Chop Suey” Reynaga, as they traveled with the caravan throughout the Central Valley.

Thank you to all of the Central Valley agencies for your generous support. We especially want to thank the Central Valley Burn Relay coordinator, Eric Hanson. Eric, we appreciate the hours you spent to make this relay a success!

We are excited to see the return of the annual Burn Relays as an in-person event. Watch for more Relays coming soon!

Having an Otterly Good Time

On April 9, 2022, we were excited for the return of the annual adventure trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The aquarium no longer offers the overnight adventures we have enjoyed in the past, so we packed everything into one fun-filled day-trip!

We spent the day exploring the aquarium – seeing all kinds of marine life from puffins to sea otters to jelly fish. The nine burn survivor children who joined us also got to spend time at the touch pools and learn all about kelp, crabs, and other sea creatures!

In addition to exploring the aquarium, we also visited the park, playing in the sand and enjoying our meals and the time we had together.

Special thanks to our volunteers: Eric “Smores” Macintosh, Christie “Cupcake” Peterson, Kasey “Viper” Addiego, Scott “Poindexter” Mellon, Pradnya Bergdahl, and Kelly “Sunflower” Dern. We appreciate all of your help to make this day a memorable event for everyone!

Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation Celebrates 51 Years

On April 15, 2022, we celebrated AARBF’s 51st Anniversary by kicking off the Champy-On fundraiser! Champy-On is an eight-week fundraiser that ends just before the start of Champ Camp. The goal of this year’s event is to send fifty kids to Champ Camp.

There is still time to register as an individual or team. Prizes will be awarded throughout the fundraising campaign.

Visit the Champy-On fundraising page at to learn more.

Honoring Our Volunteers During Volunteer Appreciation Week

The Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation is honored to work with so many talented and dedicated volunteers. We strive to find ways to show our appreciation in all interactions, but one week each year we highlight a select group of volunteers who have gone above and beyond to help further the mission of the foundation through an awards recognition. The following special volunteers were highlighted on our social media during National Volunteer Appreciation Week (April 17-23, 2022):

2022 Fundraising Award – Pete and Kelly Dern

Pete “Cobra” and Kelly “Sunflower” Dern, have been volunteers for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation for the past 7 years, following Pete’s burn injury. Pete was a Captain for the Fresno Fire Department for 25 years and Kelly enjoyed a 26-year teaching career. Not only was Kelly an amazing teacher, she is an incredible support to Pete now and during his recovery. Their whole lives have been dedicated to teaching, supporting and protecting others and each other. Over the years with AARBF, they have attended countless regional trips, provided peer support to burn survivors and caregivers, and, their favorite, participated in Champ Camp as counselors for the past 7 years!

In addition to their support of AARBF survivors, they have shown their dedication to the foundation, as a whole, through their fundraising efforts. In 2021, they were able to rally community members, as well as friends and family to donate live, silent, and dessert auction items to AARBF’s Dinner & Dance. Because of their leadership and tenacity, the AARBF Dinner & Dance team was able to raise over $100,000 in just one night!


2022 Burn Prevention Award – Chief Ruben Grijalva

Ruben Grijalva has made prevention his life’s work! He is a former director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), which is responsible for protecting more than 31 million acres of the state’s privately owned wildlands and provides emergency services to 36 of the state’s 58 counties via contracts with local governments. Ruben is also a former California state fire marshal and state forester. Previously, he served as executive director of the California Fire and Rescue Training Authority, fire chief for the city of Palo Alto and fire marshal for the city of Sunnyvale. Currently, Ruben is the owner and principal consultant of, which provides a variety of consulting, government relations, strategic planning and code development services.

Ruben first became aware of AARBF through our Burn Relays, which he supported as a Fire Chief with the City of Palo Alto. Currently, he enjoys serving AARBF as a volunteer on both the Finance Committee and the Prevention Committee, as well as on our Council of Advisors. As a participant on the Prevention Committee, Ruben understands the importance of networking with fire agencies to expand the burn prevention educational reach of AARBF. Ruben has been able to sponsor informational booths for AARBF at the annual California Fire Chiefs Conference and the California Fire Prevention Institute to educate active firefighters, fire officers, and fire prevention personnel about the resources available to them from AARBF, and how they can help with our mission of burn prevention and supporting burn survivors. He considers it a personal mission to get more involvement from the fire service within AARBF!


2022 Survivor Services Award – Chris and Heather Bridger

This dynamic duo spends countless hours each year planning Champ Camp. Last year, they planned in-person, virtual and hybrid options with a number of different scenarios to determine the best way to ensure a safe camp for our campers, counselors and staff. The end result was an in-person AND virtual Champ Camp for 92 in-person and 26 virtual campers!

Chris “Rocks” and Heather “Willow” Bridger were determined to make the 35th Champ Camp the BEST OF THE BEST and they succeeded! It looked a little different – with family pods, masks and social distancing – but the laughter, songs, costumes, fun and love were the same as the 34 Champ Camps before. The leadership, guidance, care, creativity and love that Chris and Heather poured into Champ Camp made returning safely to an in-person program a reality. And they’re doing it all again this year!!

When Chris was asked why he continues to give so much of himself and his family time to the foundation, he stated, “When I sit down and reevaluate my life, think about the stresses and things that keep all of us so busy, I always go back to where my heart is… that with AARBF and Champ Camp.”


2022 Champy-On Award – Rick “Spaz” Camarena and Jennifer “Jersey” Davi

Rick worked for LA Country Fire for 17 years, where he was introduced to AARBF and started volunteering for Champ Camp in 1997.

Rick started as a Ranchero Counselor and then moved to be a Wrangler Counselor for over 20 years. In 2014, he became the Ranchero Unit Leader. He is known for teaching swim lessons, facilitating the counselor evening program activities, having his cabin dance to The Beach Boys, and somehow, always having his “birthday” at camp and going in the lake, even though his actual birthday is in December.

In 2005, Rick brought his then girlfriend Jennifer to camp, but did not tell anyone they were together. Rick loved joking with the other counselors encouraging them to ask Jennifer out. Until 2009, when Rick proposed to Jennifer just before camp started.

Jennifer’s Involvement began in 2005 as a Wrangler counselor and then after a few years, moved to senior cabins. After having her daughter, she took one year off and then came back to camp as the scheduler for two years, and then eventually becoming the co-senior unit leader. She is known for suppling the staff with her delicious coffee, her amazing staff shirts, and her famous spa nights with the senior girls.

In their past 20-30 years of involvement with AARBF, Rick and Jennifer have introduced over 25 new counselors to volunteer at champ camp!

After hurricane Katrina hit, Rick and Jennifer decided to double down and leave California and the fire service to focus on rebuilding the south. Despite moving out of California, not only have they continued to support AARBF and Champ Camp, but have become leaders and pillars in the community. Their impact on Champ Camp is significant and the lives they have touched through camp continues to grow.


2022 People’s Choice Award – Clark “Grizzy” Stern

Since he began volunteering with AARBF, Clark Stern has been a part of just about every event in Northern California. He’s been with us for holiday parties, ski trips, the Outdoor Trip, and Champ Camp as both a counselor and medical staff. Whatever it is, Clark is excited to be a part of it! If it will enhance the experience for the burn survivor, Clark will do it. From being the MC for a mean bingo game, making virtual events fun and hilarious, and even dressing up as a leprechaun at the ski trip so the kids could chase him, Clark is ready to go!

Clark is an all-around advocate for the foundation. He is a constant spokesperson versed on survivor services, burn prevention and fundraising endeavors. Clark has been a huge part of AARBF for years, giving countless hours to enhance the lives of burn survivors, prevent future burn injuries and expand the reach of these efforts by bringing new volunteers into the foundation. It is no wonder that Clark was nominated and selected as this year’s People’s Choice Award winner! This award is a testament to not only what he does for the foundation, but also how great of a friend he is to everyone within our burn community. You Rock!


2022 Ruch Family Circle Award – Dr. Ruth Rimmer

Dr. Ruth (as she is affectionately known) began her career of working with burn survivors at the Arizona Burn Center where she served as the Family Service Director and also as the Director of Psycho/Social/Prevention Research. It is through her research studies that she has applied what she has learned to help organizations, like AARBF, to develop or enhance programs for both survivors and their families.

Dr. Ruth started with attending Champ Camp in order to give campers a voice and to help determine the challenges faced by young burn survivors. Her research has been shared with burn care professionals on a national and international level. Dr. Ruth has also been involved with Young Adult Summit as an adult advisor for the past 12 years. Her company, Care Plans for Life, sponsors the Aiming Higher Scholarship for burn survivor graduate students. They also sponsored the pilot program for The Women’s Empowerment Program which she and Cindy Rutter, RN, LMFT initiated. Dr. Ruth has been honored to serve as a volunteer, helping the burn-injured become burn survivors, and we have been honored to have her be a part of the AARBF family for the past 20 years!

Promoting Burn Safety Through Partnerships

On April 22, 2022, AARBF participated in a virtual workshop with AARP California to promote safety tips for burn prevention. AARP California offers a HomeFit program which teaches older adults and their caregivers how to help make their home safer and more comfortable as they age in place. The virtual workshop had 65 in attendance.

Although this is not the first time AARBF has partnered with AARP, it was the first workshop in 2022. AARBF volunteer, Andrew “Monkey” Mersmann presented on the subject of burn prevention, using elements from our prevention program, Senior Prevention and Risk Conversations, also known as SPARC.

SPARC is a passion project of Andrew’s. He was the leading force behind the program’s development. SPARC is an interactive and customized program designed to engage older adults, ages 55 years and older, in conversations about fire and burn safety, in a comfortable and casual environment. SPARC brings valuable prevention education to those who wish to incorporate safe practices into their everyday routine, while remaining at home as they age.

Click here to learn more about the SPARC program.

Dinner for a Cause

On April 23, 2022, AARBF’s McKenzie Dern enjoyed spending the evening with our friends – the students of the Fresno City College (FCC) Fire Academy! They held a fundraising dinner for AARBF and Champ Camp as part of their commitment to the Fresno Urban Run which was held on Sunday, May 1, 2022.

During the event, FCC brought in about $10,000 between the event tickets, raffle tickets, sponsorships and live auction! This amount was applied towards their Fresno Urban Run fundraising goal! Great job, FCC!!

N.I.C.K. Introduced to the Pomona Community

AARBF’s Daniel Chacon and Margarita Rodriguez represented AARBF and the N.I.C.K. Program at the LA County Fire Department’s Sirens of Silence community event in Pomona, CA on Saturday, April 30, 2022. This specially tailored event allowed children with special needs, their families, therapists, firefighters and police to meet in a sensory-sensitive space and learn from one another.

During the three-hour event, Margarita and Daniel met with over 100 families to share the Neurotypical/Neurodiverse Independent Communication Kit (N.I.C.K.) program for Fire and Burn Safety! This is the second community event we have shared the N.I.C.K. program alongside Sirens of Silence.

Promoting autism and special needs awareness, education and inclusion, the LACoFD’s Sirens of Silence program consists of three parts: 1) training, information, resources and materials for first responders; 2) sensory-sensitive community events; and 3) safety-related and sensory-sensitive items for patients.

To learn more about AARBF’s NICK Program, visit our website at

Now Accepting Champ Camp Applications

Applications are now being accepted for the 36th Champ Camp scheduled for June 11-18, 2022. Camp is open to all burn survivors ages 5-17 who have spent 24 hours in a California Burn Unit or are a burn survivor who was treated outside of California, who now resides in California.

If you are a parent or guardian of a burn survivor child and have questions or concerns about camp, please contact us at and you will be connected with your local regional manager to learn more.

Space is limited. Please click here to register.

Educational Scholarships Available

The Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation provides educational scholarships through the Woody and Louise Reed Bridge to Life Scholarship program. This program provides support to burn survivors and their family members who have been involved in the life of AARBF and need financial aid to pursue an education after high school.

The purpose of this program is to “bridge” the gap between the existing programs AARBF provides for survivors and higher education. This financial assistance if for those seeking education beyond high school, whether it is at a university or technical institution.

To learn if you are eligible and for program requirements, visit our website at and download the application.

Join Us for a Champ Camp Counselor Reunion

Champ Camp counselors, both past and present, are invited to bring their families and join us for an “All Champ Camp Counselor Reunion” on Saturday, July 23, 2022, at Mike “Colonel” Sanders’ home in Morgan Hill, CA.

We will be serving hamburgers, hot dogs, water and some soft drinks. If you plan on attending this once in a lifetime event, please bring some other kinds of food to share with the group.  (Your choice – appetizer, casserole, salad, dessert, or anything else you might want to share with the group).

The theme for this event will be: “One Big Happy Champ Camp Family” (you know we have to have a theme). Since this is a Champ Camp Counselor Reunion, plan on there being group skits, songs and several other surprises throughout the event. Please wear an old Champ Camp shirt.

There are several hotels in the area if you want to stay in town. Colonel has about 8 acres of flat ground if you wish to bring a trailer, motorhome or whatever you want to sleep in.  He does not have power, water or dumping facilities.

Volunteer Opportunties:

Please check with your regional office for more information on upcoming volunteer opportunities.

For Northern California, please contact Scott “Scooter” Wertz at or 415-495-7223 Ext. 19

For Central California, please contact McKenzie “Bubbles” Dern at or 559-286-0710 Ext. 15

For Southern California, please contact Margarita “Cubby” Rodriguez at or 818-848-0223 Ext. 16

Upcoming Events:

April 15 – June 10: Champy-On Fundraiser, contact Katie “Popcorn” Szymczak at 818-848-0223 Ext. 14 or for more information

May 26: (7:00pm – 8:30pm), Movement Expression, contact Daniel “Apollo” Chacon at 415-495-7223 Ext. 18 or


June 2: (7:00pm – 8:30pm), Caregiver Support Group – Online Video Support, contact Daniel “Apollo” Chacon at 415-495-7223 Ext. 18 or to receive log-in information.

June 5: (1:30pm – 3:30pm), SoCal Survivors Online Support Group, contact Margarita “Cubby” Rodriguez at or 818-848-0223 Ext. 16 to receive log-in information.

June 7: (7:00pm – 8:30pm), Santa Clara Valley Medical Online Support Group, contact Scott “Scooter” Wertz at or 415-495-7223 Ext. 19 to receive log-in information.

June 8: (6:30pm – 8:00pm), North/East Bay Burn Online Support Group, contact Scott “Scooter” Wertz at or 415-495-7223 Ext. 19 to receive log-in information.

June 9: (7:00pm – 8:30pm), Burn Care Professionals Support Group, contact Daniel “Apollo” Chacon at 415-495-7223 Ext. 18 or to receive log-in information.

June 11-18: Champ Camp, camper registration

June 14: (6:00pm – 7:30pm), Fresno Community Regional Medical Center Online Support Group, contact McKenzie “Bubbles” Dern at or 559-286-0710 Ext. 15 to receive log-in information.

June 16: (7:00pm – 8:30pm), Statewide Support Group – Online, contact Daniel “Apollo” Chacon at 415-495-7223 Ext. 18 or to receive log-in information.

June 21: (7:00pm – 8:30pm), Spanish-Speaking Online Burn Survivor Support Group, contact Margarita “Cubby” Rodriguez at or 818-848-0223 Ext. 16 to receive log-in information.

June 23: (11:30am – 1:00pm), Saint Francis Online Support Group, contact Scott “Scooter” Wertz at or 415-495-7223 Ext. 19 to receive log-in information.

June 23: (7:00pm – 8:30pm), Art Expression, contact Daniel “Apollo” Chacon at 415-495-7223 Ext. 18 or

If you missed any of our past Burn Bulletins, please check out our archives.