Jacksonville River Rally Poker Run helps child burn survivors

Annual event raises money to send children who suffer burns to Camp Amigo

By Erik Avanier - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The annual Jacksonville River Rally Poker Run is this weekend. It’s an event that raises money to send child burn survivors to Camp Amigo for one week during the summer.

Children who survive serious burns to their bodies are often left with visible scars that remind them of the trauma they had to endure. According to the Burn Foundation, every year, 250,000 children across the United States are seriously burned, 15,000 of whom are hospitalized. The Burn Foundation said 100,000 are scalded by hot liquid, 1,500 are injured from playing with matches and the rest are injured from having contact with hot surfaces.

Kamiya Richards, 21, of Jacksonville, was only 9 years old when her life was altered by fire. 

“I was in a house fire. I and my siblings were home alone and just being kids, playing with fire,” Richards said.

While her siblings were unharmed by the fire, Richards suffered third-degree burns to 70% of her body. After she was released from a hospital, a nurse spoke to her parents about a place where child burn survivors can meet and have fun. 

“They talked to my parents about the burn camp, which I had no clue about,” Richards said. "From there on out, I started burn camp."

The camp she referred to is Camp Amigo, which is located near Tallahassee. It’s a place where for one week during the summer, child burn survivors can be among each other and not feel out of place because of their scars. 

“You start to become more confident and it’s a place where you can go and you’re comfortable around everyone else because you all share the same story and have a lot in common,” Richards said. 

Retired firefighter Rusty Roberts has been running Camp Amigo for 19 years. He told News4Jax that he watches the growth in children who attend the camp every year.

“We’re building kids here. We’re building the future. These kids have already been through so much,” Roberts said. 

On average, it costs $2,500 to send a kid to camp for a week. The money pays for more than just the activities, food and lodging, it also pays for one-on-one counseling.

“They’re hooked up with either a burn survivor, firefighter or a burn nurse and they spend the week with them,” Roberts said. "We do support groups, building skills, just show these kids there are avenues where they can excel.”

That is a lot of money for many parents who may not be able to afford to send their child to camp, which is where the annual Jacksonville River Rally Poker Run comes into play. 

Every year, the event raises money to send child burn survivors to Camp Amigo. The money comes from poker run participants, sponsors and post-event donations. Last year, the River Rally Poker Run raised more than $12,000. 

WATCH: 2019 Jacksonville River Rally Poker Run preview

Richards said the money raised each year goes a long way to help children who have survived serious burn injuries. 

“I feel like this camp gives opportunities to these children to do stuff they probably would have never done. So I think it’s great we have these events where people can come out and we can (raise) money from donations for it because it really helps the children,” Richards said. 

Event organizers are hoping the money raised this year will exceed the $12,754 raised last year.  This year, as many as 30 boaters and boat enthusiasts have registered to take part in Saturday’s poker run along the St. Johns River. Participants are coming from as far as New York and California. 

“Once I heard about what the actual cause was and how much it benefited the kids over the years, I said, 'It’s going to be a lot of fun to come down,'" said Bill Sestak, a boater from Syracuse, New York. 

This is the one weekend a year when the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville looks like a scene from the '80s TV show "Miami Vice," as the Metropolitan Park Marina becomes packed with high-end performance boats that will be cruising down the river to Palatka and back to raise money to help child burn survivors. 

“When we found out it supported the children’s camp, it really motivated us to participate because it is a worthy cause," said Mike Layton, a boater from Augusta, Georgia. "Whatever we can do to make a difference -- whether it be burns, cancer or anything -- it’s a big motivator for our company and our group.”

The poker run begins at 11 a.m. in downtown Jacksonville. The route along the St. Johns River takes participants to the Crystal Cove Riverfront Resort in Palatka, where there is a $20-per-person lunch, then back to Jacksonville.

For more information about the event or how to donate, visit jacksonvilleriverrally.org. To learn more about Camp Amigo, visit campamigo.com.

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