Largest camp in U.S. for burn-injured kids kicks off in Sanger

Champ Camp Foundation empowers burn survivors ages 5-17 throughout California.
SANGER, Calif. (KFSN) -- Camp cheers paired with smiling faces have made a return to Wonder Valley in Sanger.

Celebrating 35 years and a return to in-person activity, Champ Camp is welcoming 100 burn survivors back to their summer home away from home.

While camp may be socially distanced and started with COVID testing before heading to cabins, tradition remains the same - s'mores included.

"It's been a whole year, but at the same time, it feels like no time has passed. We all know it's going to be different, we do have a lot of restrictions in place," says counselor turned resource development manager for the nonprofit, Erika Mendoza.

This year campers are in family pods of no more than 18 for the entire week.

For added safety, camp is closed to the public, including media.

Mendoza met with Action News virtually to share the excitement.

"The kids get a lot out of this, they look forward to this all year, but sometimes the volunteers get even more out of it because of the love they get back from the kids," Mendoza says.

RELATED: Champ Camp for burn survivors returning to in-person experience next week

Champ Camp Foundation empowers burn survivors ages 5-17 throughout California.

Video from previous years shows whether they are ziplining, shooting archery, jumping on trampolines, or horseback riding, campers are treated to a one-of-a-kind experience.

"A lot of our campers have limitations, for example, I don't have my fingers. And you learn here that there are no limitations for yourself, you, you get to find different ways that work for you, for example, doing archery. I can shoot bullseye," says Mendoza.

Adds Champ Camp Director Chris Bridger:
"They're overcoming trauma that we just can't comprehend, but for them to come to camp, be around another 130 kids that have gone through the same experience as they have and be around a loving and supporting environment that encourages them and they can learn to grow and try new things..."

Inspired by the resilience of campers, canceling during the pandemic was never an option.

So 2020 campers received Camp in a Box, something the nonprofit is using this year to reach campers while capacity limitations are in place.

"For those unable to attend and those still in the hospital seeking treatment, we're providing Camp in a Box like we did last year and there'll be live Zoom sessions they can interact in," says Bridger.

To date, the Alisa Ann Ruch Foundation has sent more than 2,000 kids to Champ Camp, the nation's largest and one of the longest-running camps for burn-injured children.

Fundraising efforts take care of the costs. You can contribute by clicking here.

"We don't like to turn away kids and we'll do anything we can to provide and give these kids a space to grow and love their scars," says McKenzie Dern with the foundation.

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