Non-profit aiming to help burn survivors during holiday season

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Erika Mendoza's connection to the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation goes beyond her desire to support burn survivors.

"Burn injury is a lifelong journey, a lifelong recovery process," she said.

It's been 23 years since she survived a car crash.

Just four at the time, Erika and her parents were introduced to the non-profit that would bring her a sense of community and a future career.

"I started with champ camp at the age of five and honestly, it was completely life-changing," she said. "Burn survivors can be themselves and meet other burn survivors with similar scars and similar stories and overall, creating a sense of community is what's most important in the recovery process. That's what we do; we're a big family."

That sense of community would bring Erika back as a camp counselor and foundation volunteer.

"My family was very strong," she said. "We came together, we were able to push through and persevere during my recovery. Unfortunately, a lot of other survivors don't have that support system with them."

Now thriving as resource development manager, she's finding new ways to inspire and empower -- even through COVID-19 restrictions.

Many of the children and their families have had to adjust to learning and working from home or lost jobs.

"For our burn survivors, it's an added stressor of having to work around in the recovery process," she said.

The pandemic brought changes to the way the foundation supported burn survivors. Instead of going to champ camp like Erika, camp came to them.

Champ camp went virtual for 2020. Something echoed throughout the year with retreats, fundraisers, peer support, and mental health services offered online.

Their latest event was a holiday zoom party.

"We did trivia, they got to see Santa, we got to talk about what our favorite traditions are," Mendoza said. "We had an ugly sweater contest; it was pretty awesome."

The foundation is hoping to keep spreading cheer with its holiday relief fund, a program aiming to bless 60 burn survivors and their families who are navigating the struggles of the pandemic.

For ways to donate, you can visit their website.
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