The grieving mother of a hotshot firefighter who was killed while battling an Arizona wildfire last year heals her pain by spurring positive social change through a foundation honoring her fallen son's legacy.
Kevin Woyjeck, 21, was one of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots team killed last year fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire.
"My neighbors all said, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I just want it to feel better. I want to feel better about this horrible thing that has happened to us," said Woyjeck's mother, Anna Woyjeck.
Today, the Kevin Woyjeck Explorers For Life Association helps aspiring firefighters turn their dreams into realities.
Martin Gasper, 17, is living proof of how the non-profit is making a difference. As part of the fire department’s explorer program, the foundation pays for Gasper’s tuition, uniforms, and bus fair from his home in East LA to station No. 3 – a burden too great for Gasper’s family.
A standout member of the Explorer Program, Gasper is also the primary caregiver of his mother, who is a Type 1 diabetic.
"It is impressive that a kid his age can manage all that," said David Tebo, an Explorer Program adviser.
Both Gasper and Woyjeck knew from a young age they wanted to be firefighters.
Kevin’s career aspirations were fueled by his desire to follow in the footsteps of his father Joe, a captain with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Also similar to Gasper, Woyjeck participated in the Explorer Program, where he learned the basics of firefighting and the importance of giving back to the community.
"I call him my fault blanket because he never saw fault in people, he always saw the good in people," his mother said.
The indelible connection between Gasper and Woyjeck inspires hope in Woyjeck’s mother.
"I lost my child," she said said. "I’ll never get over that. That will be with me forever. But, just seeing other kids, it helps me feel like Kevin’s legacy can live on."