Making Good of Your Time

How employee volunteerism led to 23andMe’s new Volunteer Time Off benefit

Each summer busses packed with exhilarated kids make their way through the windy roads of Fresno county and arrive at the gates of Wonder Valley Ranch.

As the kids unload, a group of cheerful camp counselors welcomes them with a pleasant overload of smiles, e-hugs, and happy tears. This tradition kicks off their favorite week of the year: Champ Camp!

Run by the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation (AARBF), Camp Champ is a week-long stay-away summer camp for child burn survivors, provided at no cost to the families of survivors.

Campers spend their days playing with their friends, hitting the water slides, crushing the ropes courses, going horseback riding, making crafts, chanting songs, and giggling during evening campfires in a safe environment. They’ve been doing this every summer for 35 years and it requires many devoted volunteers to pull off a perfect week at camp.

“Volunteering at Champ Camp has been the single most rewarding experience of my life,” said Jamie Calnan, Paralegal at 23andMe. 

Jamie, third from the left, during the pre-COVID-19 camp days.

Volunteer Benefit

Calnan has been volunteering each summer for several years, but this year was different for a number of reasons. It happened as 23andMe was going through an internal initiative to make the company a better place to work. And Calnan, taking her experience at Camp Champ, suggested a new kind of perk — offering employees paid time for volunteering. 

After the initial suggestion, Calnan compiled data on volunteer benefit programs, developed a proposal, presented to 23andMe executive staff, and then anxiously awaited feedback. Shortly after, the proposal was approved, a policy was drafted and the new benefit was shared company-wide. 23andMe’s Volunteer Time Off Policy became effective June 1, 2020, just in time for Champ Camp.

“It was great to see leadership hear my suggestion and support expanding our employee benefits with a policy that allows individuals to get more involved with charity organizations close to their hearts,” said Calnan.

Rewards of Volunteering

But volunteering at Champ Camp is no summer vacation. It involves a serious commitment that requires dedication, passion, and a fair amount of time. New counselors go through interviews and training sessions in spring and all counselors report to camp two days before campers arrive, staying through the end of the camp week. This requires volunteers to take between 9-11 days away from home and work each year to volunteer. 

But it’s worth it, says Calnan. 

“It’s a lot of hard work and responsibility but each year tops the previous year,” she said. “Working with children who come from such different cultures, families, and daily lives, who each have their own extremely unique journey is powerful.”

Summer Camp in the Time of COVID

Like many organizations, Champ Camp was faced with a very unique challenge due to COVID-19. There was a question about how AARBF could even have a summer camp for the kids. But with the help of Calnan and a group of resourceful volunteers, they were able to create and deliver the world’s first online burn survivor summer camp. One hundred and thirty-seven campers received a “camp in a box,” a special package filled with everything you’d expect from summer camp including snacks, arts and crafts, and plenty of water balloons. Campers participated in online calls, virtual campfires, various other activities, and most importantly, still spent a treasured week with their friends and favorite volunteer counselors on-screen. 

The success of this annual camp would not be possible without such an extraordinary group of volunteers who continue to make a monumental impact on the lives of the campers. 

“It feels great knowing that my employer not only supports my enthusiasm for volunteering with AARBF but now helps provide the extra time,” said Calnan. “Champ Camp Rocks!”


To learn more about the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation and Champ Camp, visit us online at: https://www.aarbf.org, or follow us online on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AlisaAnnRuchBurnFoundation/ or on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/aarbf/. Donations are gladly being accepted this year to help AARBF keep up their phenomenal work. Donations can be made at https://www.aarbf.org/usapay/.