Iselin gets $1,000 grant

Sun Prairie’s Eli Iselin (holding check) attended the special recognition luncheon at the Radisson Hotel on March 27 hosted by the Sauk Trails Optimist Club and with him Lieutenant Jimmy Ahn of the Madison Fire Department (left), Madison Fire Chief Steven Davis (second from left) and Eric Salzwedel (right) of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin. Iselin, a burn survivor, received a $1,000 grant to attend firefighting school.

The ball went into the neighbor’s yard.

Little Eli and his twin brother were playing and the neighbor’s dog got the ball. The boys’ foster mother didn’t like that. She got angry. She took Eli inside the house and held him while she turned on the hot water, holding him until the scalding hot water burned his arms.

Then, to hide what she’d done, she wrapped Eli’s burned flesh in toilet paper. That’s the way they found him when Eli finally ended up in a hospital emergency room.

Nurses wept. Some of them shouted in anger and frustration, but pre-school Eli knew what he wanted to do after what had been done to him. Eli wanted to peel the toilet paper and parboiled flesh off his own arms with his own burned hands.


“Because at that moment,” Eli told the Sauk Trails Optimist Club of Madison, “I knew I was a survivor.”

Now Eli wants to be a firefighter. He stood to tell his story March 27 in the presence of professional firefighters and to receive a grant for $1,000 from the Sauk Trails Optimist Club Foundation to benefit the Summer Burn Camp held each year near East Troy, and sponsored by the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, their friends and colleagues.

Because this is the 100th Anniversary Year of Optimist International, each Optimist Club is encouraged to conduct a special event to commemorate the century landmark. Sauk Trails Optimists fill its calendar with activities all year that echo the Optimist motto Friend of Youth.

It occurred to the club that honoring Firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians this year would be a fitting way to salute both their service and a century of effort by Optimists.

A ‘problem’ arose initially when the Madison Fire Department replied to a request for the names of individuals worthy of commendation. “…we do not typically recognize individuals on our Department because we always work as a team and feel that singling out individuals can degrade the team concept we support very seriously,” MFD replied.

The club was left with a question: what to do?

In December, 2018 Eric Salzwedel, Program Coordinator with the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin Charitable Foundation presented a compelling program to Sauk Trails Optimists about the Summer Camp for Burn Injured Youth now in its 25th year.

His information became instrumental in shifting the Sauk Trails focus from individual firefighters and EMTs to the people and specifically the children they serve.

Instead of a plaque or trophy, the vision became a contribution to help a burned child go to a fun filled camp and enjoy activities amid other children and the care of dedicated volunteers and staff.

Sauk Trails Optimists began to consider and subsequently approve on March 12 by unanimous vote of the Sauk Trails Optimist Foundation, a grant to benefit the Summer Burn Camp and by so doing also honor Fire Fighters and EMTs and all those who helped save young burn injured lives.

Sauk Trails Optimists came on board to benefit the Burn Camp on its 25th anniversary and make a difference in the lives of children who had no choice at being handed life-altering challenges while at the same time saying thanks in a tangible way to men and women whose professional daring and teamwork give real meaning to the term Community Service.

Sun Prairie’s Eli Iselin, the Eli referenced previously, attended the special recognition luncheon at the Radisson Hotel on March 27 before the Sauk Trails Optimist Club.

Madison Fire Chief Steven Davis, Lt. Jimmy Ahn of the MFD, Eric Salzwedel of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, other guests and most of the Sauk Trails membership also attended.

The hushed audience heard Eli’s story and gave emotional applause as he received a presentation letter and grant envelope from the Sauk Trails Optimist Club president. The audience heard from each of the firefighters as they explained their role and mission and accepted invitations to return as guest speakers as the Optimists of Sauk Trails.

This article appeared in the Optimist magazine and is used with the author’s permission.

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