Healing through trauma: Special bonds formed at annual burn survivor camp

Brianna Willis Image
Friday, June 14, 2024
Healing through trauma: Special bonds formed at annual burn survivor camp
Champ camp is back for the 39th year.

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Champ Camp is back for the 39th year, hosted by the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation.

"It made me feel very, like not alone, like I wasn't the only one in that type of situation," said burn survivor and camp attendee, Julian Reynoso.

It's 15-year-old Julian Reynoso's fourth time coming to the camp in Wonder Valley. He says it helps him overcome the trauma he's experienced.

"I was burned by a car accident; a DUI driver hit my car, our car, the family car," said Reynoso.

His two younger sisters and father did not survive the crash.

Now. through other survivors - he's healing.

It was at last year's chili cook-off, he made a connection that helped change his life.

"Initially, Julian, had a great interest in music, but he didn't think he could play anything because his hands were damaged and Freddy was holding his hands and said well you can be a drummer and he just lit up," said burn survivor and retired Fresno City firefighter, Pete Dern.

Julian and Pete Dern, known as "Cobra," his camp name, have a special counselor-to-camper relationship.

Dern, a Retired Fresno fire captain, fell through a roof in 2015 while on the job, and they both damaged their hands in a fire.

Through their bond and another retired firefighter, he started to feel the beat.

"He eventually hooked me up with a drum set and some drum lessons as well," said Reynoso.

Fred Martinez and others are now hosting "Drums 4 Julian" fundraisers.

Dern says that since last year, he's noticed Julian is now a new man.

"Julian started drumming, and he's in a band now; he has friends at school now from drumming, and I feel like just getting into music has really given him a lot of confidence," said Dern.

The week-long camp and the chili cook-off bring joy and reassurance to almost all the campers and volunteers - bonds that will never be broken.

"Me and Cobra's connection will last forever," said Reynoso.

The Burn Foundation says through this experience, they've learned that Julian is not the only survivor with an interest in music.

They've created a donation page to support drum lessons for Julian and kids who also want to play instruments.

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