Jason Ashton, a city of Rochester firefighter, and Otto Harnischfeger, a Rochester police investigator, recently received Community Citizenship awards from Volunteers of America Upstate New York.
Both were honored for their active support and annual involvement with Camp HEROES, a weeklong summer camp program staffed by Rochester police officers and firefighters as well as emergency medical technicians from American Medical Response who volunteer their time as camp counselors.
The camp provides city of Rochester youth with a week of healthy, skill-building and life-changing activities and experiences. In addition to outdoor activities, Camp HEROES provides officers and youths with an opportunity to get to know one another in a fun, relaxed setting and establish positive interactions. This helps to build bridges and strengthen trust between the two groups that lasts beyond the camp experience.
Ashton, of Victor, has been a lead volunteer since VOA launched the camp in 2015, and designed the logo for the camp. He has since expanded on partnerships with other agencies and recruited staff volunteers, in addition to working as a weekly counselor himself.
“It’s a true life-changing experience for kids,” Ashton said. “A lot of these kids come from difficult situations, and we try to bring in officers with a similar background as role models. It puts things in a new light for them. They learn that we’re not just firefighters, police officers and EMTs, we’re people just like them.”
Ashton has worked with Rochester Fire Department for 12 years.
Harnischfeger, of Pittsford, has volunteered with Camp HEROES since he first got involved with the planning committee in 2015. In addition to securing donations of toys, sports equipment and school supplies for the children, he has coordinated a dance party on the last night of camp.
“My favorite thing about Camp HEROES is how kids’ opinions change about law enforcement officers and that they see we are just people too,” Harnischfeger said.
Harnischfeger has worked with the city of Rochester Police Department for 31 years. He serves as board president of the Pirate Toy Fund, coordinator for camp rangers at Camp Good Days and Special Times, on the board of directors at Story of Hope and as a volunteer for Ronald McDonald House, Special Olympics and Salvation Army.
Ashton and Harnischfeger were honored during Volunteers of America Week at a donor and volunteer recognition reception at Frontier Field’s Club 3000. The event also recognized Joanne Chada with the Community Volunteer of the Year Award, UniLink with the Corporate Supporter of the Year Award and Penelope Pankow with the Maud Booth Award.