Volunteers of America Upstate New York recently joined with Rochester’s first responders to hold a five-year reunion for Camp Heroes campers and celebrate the progress made since the camp opened in 2014.
First responders from the Rochester Police Department and Rochester Fire Department spent the last four summers volunteering as counselors at Camp Heroes, an overnight summer camp for children from economically disadvantaged households. The camp provides an opportunity for children to enjoy fun, healthy activities while getting to know first responders in a noncrisis setting and building trusting relationships with them.
Employees from American Medical Response and the 911 Call Center joined police officers and firefighters during the past two years as volunteers at the camp.
The reunion allowed Camp Heroes alumni and first responders to reconnect, catch up with one another and learn about the process to become a first responder. Fire Chief Will Jackson and Police Chief Mark Simmons spoke to the former campers about the need for first responders and the importance of such work.
“We’re hoping some of them will consider a career in public safety,” Jackson said. “This has been such a great experience for the campers year after year, and we’re hoping to expand its role in the community to continue to help these kids more than just one week a year.”
Demo Day is a favorite among campers and staff when first responders give interactive demonstrations of their work and equipment to campers, who are encouraged to participate.
“Because of the Camp Heroes experience, our campers can envision themselves as first responders through their interaction with these role models throughout the week,” said Rob Stedman, camp director. “We want to create opportunities to foster those dreams and goals while also helping them get the education and training that they will need to be successful as young adults in school, and begin thinking about college and career opportunities.”
Javier, a former camper, is a junior in high school and intends to become a firefighter in Rochester. He started the process by participating in the Career Pathways to Public Safety program offered at his school.
“I made a lot of connections with the firefighters at Camp Heroes and it made me want to be just like them,” he said. “I like how they help people and I want to help people, too.
Whether the campers pursue a public safety career or not, Camp Heroes changed their perception of Rochester’s first responders.
“It broadened my view of the police,” said Bianca, another former camper. “Just because they wear a uniform on a daily basis doesn’t change that they’re human.”
Anyone interested in sponsoring a camper can visit voaupny.org/camp-heroes or mail a donation to Volunteers of America “Camp Heroes,” 214 Lake Ave., Rochester, New York, 14608. Call (585) 402-7204 for information.