WESTPORT, Conn. Every summer, Westport Assistant Fire Chief Robert Kepchar looks forward to helping children who've survived life-altering burns.
Twenty years ago, Kepchar became a volunteer counselor at the Arthur C. Luf Children's Burn Camp in Union, Conn., a weeklong, overnight program for kids 8 to 18. For the past six years, he's served as assistant camp director, which is also a volunteer position.
"Seeing the look on a kid's face when they accomplish something and their self-esteem is boostedthat's the most rewarding part," said Kepchar, who also serves as the camp's official photographer. "A few years ago, we had one camper who had no arms and was paralyzed, but he wanted to go zip-lining more than anything else.
"We outfitted him with a special harness, got him up there and coached him to push himself off the platform, and he did it. That's probably one of my best memories."
This year's camp ran from July 17-24. During the week, campers have the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities, like zip-lining, archery, boating, hiking, fishing and now paint ball.
Beyond the hands-on activities, Kepchar said the burn camp serves as a safe haven for the children. "I think one of the biggest advantages of camp is the compassion and love the campers receive from the counselors," he said. "A lot of the kids don't experience that in their everyday lives."
Another major benefit is that all the kids are in a similar situation, Kepchar said, so no one is made fun of for how he or she looks.
Run by the Connecticut Burns Care Foundation, the camp receives children from all over the country, and even other parts of the world. This year, the camp had 74 kids and 94 counselors. Mostabout 70 percentof the counselors are firefighters, Kepchar said.
"Being a part of this group has taught me a lot about life," the assistant chief said. "It's taught me to appreciate what I have and to know what adversity really means. These kids are truly inspiring."
For more information about the camp or to make a donation, visit the Connecticut Burns Care Foundation online .
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