This free camp for young burn victims is helping kids heal

In June 2005, the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation (AARBF) will celebrate the 20th year of Champ Camp, a summer residential camp for moderately to severely burn-injured children, age 5–16. Each year, we provide this exceptional summer-camp experience for young survivors of burn injuries who may not be willing or physically able to attend other summer-camp programs. We raise funds all year long to provide this camp free of charge to participants. The Wonder Valley Ranch in Sanger, Calif, is host for the camp, and it is accredited by the American Camping Association.

A Time for Fun and Freedom

The philosophy and goals of Champ Camp are:

• to provide a safe place for burn-injured children to get away from stares and unwanted attention associated with their burn injuries;

• to meet others who have been through a similar experience;

• to introduce the children to new and challenging physical activities that will increase their self-sufficiency and motor skills;

• to establish a supportive atmosphere that helps soothe the pain a burn injury can cause and spotlight that person’s inner beauty—not the burn scars;

• to ensure that campers receive annual medical evaluations to reveal any need for follow-up treatment; and

• to provide a program that ensures that the children will have a great time.

Champ Camp is staffed by a camp director, counselors, and medical staff. Volunteers serving as camp counselors are the lifeblood of the camp program and are catalysts in paving the way toward recovery for the burn-injured child.

The campers are grouped by age as follows:

• Buckaroos: ages 5–7;

• Rancheros: ages 8–10;

• Wranglers: ages 11–13; and

• Seniors: ages 14–16.

A variety of activities are offered: go-carts, mini-bikes, arts and crafts, horseback riding, fishing, boating, animal appreciation, nature hikes, swimming, ropes course, cosmetics, and photography. To ensure that the campers have a good time, and to develop team-building skills, a theme is chosen for the week. Each day represents a different category related to the theme. This encourages individuals and cabin groups to dress up and show camp spirit.

Each year, campers and parents or guardians are required to complete a camper application, and a physician release is required to ensure that the child has received medical clearance to attend. This provides for safety as well as an opportunity to encourage kids to receive evaluations for follow-up treatment and surgery to ensure the best possible physical functioning and condition as they mature. The physicians, nurses, and other members of the medical community who volunteer as medical staff for Champ Camp provide an additional step in this process, as additional recommendations may arise after seeing a child in an active environment.

An Extension of Services

Champ Camp is an extension of the burn-survivor services provided by the AARBF. Services often begin when a burn patient is still in the hospital or when a child returns for follow-up surgery. We offer basic assistance when no other resource is available for special medical equipment and pressure garments, as well as meals and lodging for family members in special circumstances. Then, we follow up with opportunities for peer support groups to give burn survivors a sense that they are not alone in their feelings through what is often a painstaking recovery. We also offer back-to-school and back-to-work presentations to help peers prepare a recovering burn survivor to return to their environments. During these presentations, many of the questions that well-meaning coworkers and students may have are answered.

The AARBF also stays in touch with burn survivors over the years to invite them to recreational and therapeutic activities such as Champ Camp, Family Camp, and the Young Adult Summit. Through this contact, we serve as a liaison to the medical community to encourage burn survivors—especially children—to receive the best therapy and follow-up treatments that are available.

A common misconception among the public is that a single procedure can completely and immediately restore a person to his or her previous appearance. We work with medical professionals and surgeons to educate family members and peers on the incredibly advanced and complex medical and surgical solutions that are available today to improve both form and function of a body after a burn injury. We also provide information and peer support to help patients and their families understand the importance of inner beauty and strength, as well as the time and therapy that are required to fully utilize the medical advances.

Rebecca Evans, MA, is the executive director of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation. She can be reached at (800) 242-2876 or (888) 492-2876. For more information on the AARBF or to get involved, visit