From Camper to Counselor

July 11, 2014





My name is Peter “Chop Suey” Reynaga and my story starts in June of 2006 when I was admitted to University Medical Center of Southern Nevada hospital for my burn injuries. That June, I met former AARBF employee Renee “Baker” Croteau. She told me and my family about Champ Camp and how great it was. The next summer I signed up and went to Champ Camp. It was a wonderful experience and truly lived up to the hype. I got to go to camp for four years as a camper and one year as a CIT.  Those were some of the best weeks of my life.

Champ Camp 2014 was the first year I went to Champ Camp as a Camp Counselor. It was big step to take with a lot of mixed emotions. At the beginning of the week I was excited and nervous all at the same time. I was excited to be back at Camp with the people I looked up to and loved, but I was also nervous about how it would be to serve as a role model and leader for my campers. My co-counselors made it easier on me and really helped me through the week. It felt great see all the campers and help them have a great week. I really enjoyed being able to work with a lot of the Counselors that I respected and looked up to as a camper.

As a way of giving more to the Foundation, I decided to shave my beard that I have been growing for more than a year— but only if I could raise $750.00; the cost of sending a burn-injured child to Champ Camp. Throughout the week of Champ Camp, all of the Camp Counselors made donations to help me reach my goal of raising $750.00. Well, after one week at Champ Camp, I did not raise $750.00…I raised $1627.00!! With the support of all of the Champ Camp counselors I was able to raise enough money to send TWO children to Champ Camp next year!!

I just want to thank the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation for the opportunity to be a Counselor for the week. It was a great experience and I can’t wait for next year!

With $1627.00 raised, I shaved my beard to support the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation’s Champ Camp!

With $1627.00 raised, I shaved my beard to support the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation’s Champ Camp!

Visit our Champ Camp page at



All for my Teta (grandma)

October 8, 2013

My name is Rana Stephan, better known (and better suited) as “Lil Bear.”   I began volunteering with the AARBF in April of 2012 and have been hooked since.  Throughout my time with the foundation, I have been in constant awe of the many wonderful volunteers that dedicate their time to the AARBF.  That’s why I was honored and humbled when my good friend, Evan, asked me to write this blog. 

A few years back, my sweet Teta (my grandmother) passed away from complications secondary to a contact burn.  She had suffered a stroke and passed out on hot asphalt on a rare, sunny twin peak day.  The news came as a shock to me as I rushed from my work to the St. Francis emergency department.  I guess this is where my story begins. 


For three months, my family was in and out of the burn unit, often taking turns for the evening and night shifts (visiting hours were merely a suggestion to us).  We became close friends with other family members whose loved ones were also going through a similar battle.  We soon became one big family, often counseling and supporting one another as the rollercoaster of emotions took hold of us.  I still think about those families everyday, the impact they made on our life and the part they played in this journey. 

Shortly after my grandmother passed away, I was accepted in City College of San Francisco Nursing program.  With the free time I did have, I decided to dedicate my time to a foundation that would inspire me.  Well, let me tell you this- I found it and more!  The AARBF welcomed me with open hearts and I soon began to call the staff members my friends.  This past summer, I had the privilege of attending Champ Camp and the Adult Getaway.  Meeting the survivors and their families only inspired me more and helped heal the pain I felt with the passing of my Teta.   

            If that wasn’t enough, the AARBF has changed my life in a profound way!  I met a group of wonderful people that I now get to call friends.  My professional network has expanded so much that I have recently been offered a position at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Burn Unit.  Having attended the holiday party last year, I reached out to the nurse manager who quickly responded, “My door is always open to AARBF volunteers.”   As any new graduate nurse knows, interviews with nurse managers are far and rare to come by.  I know that this opportunity was made possible by my involvement with AARBF, and for that, I am forever grateful.

Carolyn (Ladybug) quickly came to my rescue, compiling a glowing reference letter within one short business day notice.  During the interview, my face lit up as I got to talk about my favorite experiences with the foundation.  “Well, you’re definitely energetic and passionate about working on this unit,” the nurse manager’s words still ringing in my ears.  As I stepped out of the interview, my fingers fumbled for my phone and I dialed the first two people I could think of- Evan and Carolyn, who were both ecstatic for me. 

            The foundation has affected me more than I ever could imagine.  They took a family tragedy and showed me that with support and a lot of laughter, one can make the best of each life experience.    I still think of my Teta at every AARBF event, hoping she would be proud of her Lil Bear.  


Rest In Peace Gary “Hollywood” Patzelt

September 24, 2013




On 8/10/13, his big, loving heart gave out and he passed on to be taken care of by his grandmothers Mary Einarsson and Annemarie Patzelt and his uncle Mark Einarsson. He leaves behind his mother, Ellen Einarsson, father, Wolfgang Patzelt, brother, Kevin Patzelt, his future sister-in-law, Jacquie, and his grandparents, Donald and Mary Einarsson. He will be greatly missed by his Auntie Jill Combs, Aunt and Uncle Hannalore and Andy, Uncles Chris and Bob, cousins Jennifer, Mary, Jeffrey, Jackie and Michael, as well as all of their combined adorable children.


Gary was born and raised in South San Francisco. He attended Hillside Elementary School and Parkway Heights Middle School. After a brief time at Serra High School in San Mateo, Gary joined the football brotherhood at South San Francisco High School as an offensive lineman and earned recognition as All County Lineman for the year 2000. After high school, his unrelenting focus turned towards becoming a firefighter. Having trained with the teams at Woodside Fire and becoming a firefighter with South San Francisco, Gary achieved his goal in 2005. He dedicated his life and his energy to the department and to the surrounding community. One of his greatest passions was supporting the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation through Champ Camp. Hollywood joined AARBF and Champ Camp in 2002 and was immediately a part of our family. His big smile and kindness was felt by children and counselors alike. You always knew where Hollywood was during camp because there was always a group of kids hanging on to him. Whether in a tutu, fishing by the lake, or covered in mud from the Gaga pit, Hollywood was always working to make the kids laugh and have an unforgettable Champ Camp experience.


Returning to Champ Camp in 2011 through 2013, Hollywood continued to be a standout counselor. Hollywood’s drive to help others continued beyond Champ Camp; helping to organize a fundraiser with South San Francisco and in chaperoning survivors at the AARBF Outdoor Trip in July 2013. We will always remember his big open heart who would give away anything, including his sleeping-bag, to make the kids happy. We are forever grateful to you Hollywood, you will always be in our hearts!

Dear Mrs. Obama

July 19, 2013

Dear Mrs. Obama,

         Hey, my name is Chloe. I am 10 years old.

          I am burned. I got 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree burns because hot tea spilled on me. Yes, that’s right. I said hot tea. Not oh, I’ll drink it now hot tea. Scalding, 2- minutes-out-of-the-kettle hot tea. 20% of my lungs also got burned. I was 15 months old. I stayed in the hospital for 3 weeks. My life was saved at Shriner Hospitals for Children – Boston.

          But I’m better now. My burn hospital Ben Ali Shriners (Shriners) is amazing. They have 22 hospitals over the US, Canada, and Mexico. Shriners treats a list of conditions from A-Z. I’ve had 7 surgeries at Shriners. I’ve seen kids who have orthopedic problems, burns, spinal cord issues, need leg lengthening, cleft lip of palate, and other issues I don’t know the names of.Image

          I go to Champ Camp. Champ camp is a burn survivors-only camp. At champ we can be normal kids. It is held at Wonder Valley Ranch which is near Fresno, CA. Champ Camp is so special because EVERY CAMPER there knows what you’ve been through. Some of my friends are missing a leg. A few others are missing fingers. Some people have facial burns. I got lucky. My burn can be mainly covered up by a shirt because my burn is on my chest and neck.

Burn survivors are normal people who have burns but we aren’t always treated like normal people. When one of my friends came back to school after his burn, nobody would play with him at recess and they called him names. One time some boys saw my burn after a surgery and it had bruising on it and they called me zombie. But we are just normal people.

For some burn survivors their world was turned upside down, like a pair of brothers I know from Camp. One of their twin brother was killed by his burns. He died on Christmas Day 2008. For another her birth mother dropped a burning cigarette into her crib which ended in her having only 4 toes and 1 leg.

All burn survivors have been through a lot. From hot tea to falling into the fireplace to losing a leg or a brother, everybody at champ camp knows what you’ve been through. Surgeries, stares, pain. Every single camper, CIT, and most counselors know all of that. Champ camp is the best thing that has happened to me.

On the ride there this year a little girl was crying because she wanted to go home. At the end of camp I walked up to a little huddle of Buckaroos (the youngest age group) and the same little girl was wailing because she didn’t want to leave. A counselor was fanning her eyes with her yearbook and then put on her sunglasses and said, “I just like wearing my sunglasses inside, Yup.” I started bawling when I got home and then a song that they played a lot at champ camp came on the radio and I cried even harder.

It hurts so much to say goodbye to champ camp for another year. Even  though it’s just one week a year, it’s amazing. At camp you can see that you aren’t the only one with burns. I actually heard a girl who was recently burned say that she thought that there were only a few burn survivors.

Champ camp may just be a week, but it changes you. You can just be a kid at champ camp. It’s super fun at champ camp. There are go-carts, dirt bikes, horseback riding, judo, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, water wars, water games, a pool, trampolines, a ropes course, Atlantis (a giant floating playground), riflery, archery, bbguns, woodworking, arts and crafts, music, and on Thusday we go to wild waters adventure park for free with a reserved area for us.

126 kids including CITS came to camp last year. Those kids, CITs, and the counselors (about 2-3 counselors for every 3-6 kids) get sent to camp entirely on donations. It costs $750 to send one person to camp for a week. All that money comes from donors. There are fundraisers like  pancake breakfasts and fire truck relays that I participate in, a bachelors auction and other things. I also make a little stand with handmade jewelry, pastries,and friendship bracelets. My goal this year is to raise $200 that I would split between the AARBF( the foundation that holds champ camp, Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation) and Shriners. I have seen what charity can do and I want to help. I want to someday make enough money on those little sales to send myself to camp.

My burn might seem bad, but it isn’t that super bad. I’ve seen way worse. 80% of your body burned, barely any hair, and losing your twin. Shaving  your head for skin graphing.

I know that diabetes and AIDS and HIV and cancer are important, but burns are too. When I ask people what they think of burn survivors, they usually ask what are burn survivors. That just makes me mad. Sometimes, when I see a baby I think of my burn and I warn the mother of the baby about burns because I don’t want more kids to go through what I’ve gone through. Surgeries, stares, scars. I hope that doesn’t have to happen to more people. It would mean a lot to me and other burn survivors if you could give a shout out about burn survivors, champ camp and the AARBF.




My AARBF experience!

April 18, 2013

My name is Raquel Cardenas and I have been a burn survivor for fourteen years.  I was introduced to the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation when I was a patient at Shriners Hospital for Children, Los Angeles in 2000, while undergoing reconstructive surgery.

In 2008, I underwent a tissue expander surgery, but I had several complications. Because of the complications, I went through a difficult time with my burns. My surgeon, Dr. Laurant, suggested that I attend the burn survivor support group held at Shriners on Thursdays. At first I actually thought Dr. Laurant was very concerned about my emotional state, so I told him I would go to the support group. When it was time for me to go to support group, I would lie about being tired from therapy and never showed up to the group.

It was the summer of 2008 when I met Margarita Rodriguez, a new staff of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation. Ms. Margarita from AARBF always managed to see me and invite me to the support group, but I did not want to go. I told Margarita that I was in pain or that it was time for treatment. I actually felt really bad for lying to Margarita afterwards. The truth is I didn’t think that I needed a support group to help me get through my burns. After a year of insistence from Dr. Laurant and Margarita, I finally decided to go to support group. At first I felt out of place but then afterwards my family and I noticed a change in my self esteem and attitude. From that day forward, I anxiously waited for Thursdays so I could attend the support group that I once disliked.

At support group I was re-introduced to the events that are held by the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation like Champ Camp, Young Adult Summit, the Central and Southern CA-Ski Trip and the Holiday party. I had already attended several AARBF events; my first event was Champ Camp in the summer of 2002. Being a part of these events is amazing because I feel like I have grown during every single event. Every time I attend an event I learn something new. For example, at the Young Adult Summit I learned how to change a fuse in my car among many other things. At the Ski Trip, it feels incredible to be able to give back and help others, the way I was helped when I was a young burn survivor. It’s so amazing to see the smiles of the burn survivors, having fun, but most of all I realize that I can accomplish anything and I shouldn’t worry about my burns too much. 

The Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation staff and burn survivors are like my second family. AARBF has helped me to become a better person. If AARBF did not exist I would probably still have challenges with my self esteem. I probably would not be accepting of who I am or be proud to be a burn survivor. The staff of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation always makes you feel like you are family- you can tell they love what they do and make us burn survivors feel special. AARBF has given me so much love and support in my personal life and as a burn survivor.


The most recent event that I participated in was the Lakers home game at the Staples Center on Sunday, March 3rd, 2013.  Events like these help me to stay in touch with my AARBF family. That night at the Lakers game I felt connected to the burn survivors of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation because I got to catch up and I didn’t feel alone or out of place. It feels good to know that you are at this game with family and there is nothing to worry about. You feel confident because everyone makes you feel really good about yourself and they make you feel welcome and appreciated. I truly love the AARBF events and I don’t think that I can say it any other way. I love the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation and everything they do for burn survivors.  AARBF is truly my second family!!


For Mac

March 6, 2013

My name is Harry Franklin (a.k.a. Butterbean), and my good friend Buster asked if I would like to write a little something about my involvement in the Burn Foundation. At first, I was a bit skeptical—I’m a little nervous about blogging in public! But the truth is, I would do anything for Buster, and the Burn Foundation.

We are currently recruiting for this year’s CHAMP CAMP, so in the spirit of expressing why we come together to do what we do, I would like to tell the story of how I came to camp, and how it has infinitely changed my life for the better. In doing so, I hope to shift the honor I feel at serving the foundation to the man who brought me in, and serves as my constant inspiration.


I’ve been a Firefighter/Paramedic for the Santa Clara County Fire District for many years, and I’ve had the pleasure to work with many outstanding individuals. Many of them have volunteered for the Burn Foundation over the years; Colonel Sanders, Woodchuck, Cougar, Bogie, Indi, Jack Rabbit, Foxx, Big Foot, to name but a few. As a firefighter, as part of the firefighter’s Local 1165, I was accustom to working with the Foundation in public education and fundraising, but I always looked to the aforementioned firefighters with a certain awe. I vaguely knew they gave up a huge chunk of their time to work with burn injured kids during the summer, and I always had mad respect for them.

At the time, I couldn’t imagine how they were pulling it off. It wasn’t just the time away from work and family—ten days in the middle of June, prime vacation-pick territory!—the idea of working with injured kids scared me. I have kids of my own. I’ve worked with injured kids in the emergency setting, and it was often a stressful and heart-wrenching experience. I feared that I would be too empathetic, too overwhelmed by the tragedy that goes hand-in-hand with serious injury, to do what they did.


Well, I was wrong—about a lot of things.

I had the good fortune to work a few tours of duty with my friend and fellow firefighter, Mark McCormack. Mark had recently been promoted to Captain, and had been given the unenviable job of supervising me for a short period. We were having fun, running calls and cracking jokes, grilling almost every meal, and Mark began telling me stories from Champ Camp. After a while, it was clear he wanted to recruit me as a counselor. He even printed an application and showed me pictures of a bunch of people, kids and adults alike, seemingly having the time of their lives.

I told Mark I would think about it. He assured me, I would love it. In truth, I didn’t know if I could pull it off. I wasn’t sure my ol’ lady would be cool with it. I didn’t think I could get the time off work. I wanted to spend those golden summer weeks with my friends and family, my kids—there were trips, graduations, birthdays. I didn’t think I had anything leftover for things like charity or noble causes—after all, I spent my life in service to my community already, I went to the fundraisers, I supported all the causes. Looking back, I’m not sure if the old me would have turned in that application.

As it happens, my friend, Captain Mark McCormack, was killed in the line of duty while fighting a structure fire, not even three days later. He was struck by live electrical lines, and died instantly. It was not Mac’s first brush with fire. Mac was a burn survivor himself. He burnt his hand as a child and suffered a lifetime of taunts and jabs as a result of his scars.

I now know what Champ Camp meant to Mac. Tears blurred the ink on my application, but I sent it in—and my life has never been the same. I have discovered new things about myself and rekindled my faith in humanity. I have met some of the finest people on earth, and I have been given the opportunity to transform tragedy into wisdom. The kids themselves have shown me hope and joy. I never see their scars, only their smiles and the brightness of their spirits. My family has grown knowing sacrifice to a noble cause, and my daughters itch for the day when they can be counselors themselves.

I thank Mac, and dedicate my service in his name. 

Welcome Back (to School) – How AARBF helped one family get right back into the swing of things

February 15, 2013


My name is Jennifer and I am the mother of Elise, a recent burn survivor.  On December 24, 2012 we had a horrible accident in our home resulting in my baby girl getting burned on the right side of her face, arm and upper back.  At only 8 years old she has endured (in my opinion) more than her fair share of pain.  This, by far has been the hardest struggle of our lives.  Not to mention how terrified I was for my daughter to return to school…all the questions and stares.  Recently, I met with a wonderful young woman named Bonita who works in the Central California Office of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation. Speaking with her I learned that she would help re-introduce Elise back to her class as the “NEW ELISE”, by gaining the other children’s compassion while they were yearning to know “what happened?” I was thrilled.  Bonita did a terrific job answering everyone’s questions and still keeping Elise’s comfort in mind.  I especially enjoyed the knowledge that she gave the children about Fire Safety and what to do in case of an emergency.  The “Dragon Tales” story told about a little dragon that got burned and described the details of what burn survivors go through in an age appropriate way. I am very grateful to have had the support system of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation at such a crucial time in our lives.  I thank you all for your support.   🙂