The very first Comfort Zone Camp began 15 years ago this Wednesday at Camp Hanover in Virginia. The camp program was born out of a desire to provide a caring community and safe haven in which children who are grieving the loss of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver are heard, understood, and taught healthy ways to process their grief.
While similar to traditional camp in many ways, campers also take part in confidence building programs and age-based support groups that break the emotional isolation grief often brings. The free camps are for children aged 7 through 17.
Comfort Zone is headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, and in the 15 years since the first camp, new offices have opened in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia. The opening of the New Jersey office was in response to those children affected by loss during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The death of a parent or sibling is undeniably one of the most traumatic events a child can experience, but most parents, schools and social aren’t prepared to help children address their grief adequately,” said Mary Beth McIntire, chief executive officer of Comfort Zone. “Instead of finding a supportive, understanding community in the wake of a parent or sibling death, most children find that friends can’t relate to their loss, family members are handling their own grief, and society subtly rewards them for being strong and showing little-to-no reaction to such a life-altering event.”
This gap in both services and understanding often makes children highly vulnerable to negative coping mechanisms. Comfort Zone Camp provides children with an ongoing, strong support network, healthy coping skills and multiple opportunities to tackle grief-related issues throughout their childhood so that they reach their full potential and utilize that potential as they transition into adulthood.
Comfort Zone camps also teach kids that despite their grief, it’s OK to have fun. Campers stay in cabins, play games, hike, sing karaoke, and eat s’mores. The difference in a Comfort Zone camp is campers are also given time to share stories of losing a parent or sibling. Campers are supported by trained staff and volunteers, as well as professional grief therapists.
“There are a number of elements that set Comfort Zone apart from other similar camps,” said McIntire. “These include the fact that we have permanent, year-round locations, and our Big Buddy/Little Buddy matching system that provides a compatible and trained volunteer for each individual camper. In addition, because of the generous support of donors and sponsors, our camps have always been free of charge to campers.”
Comfort Zone provides year round support through a secure online bereavement resource and community, HelloGrief.org. Hello Grief allows campers to maintain the friendships they form at camp, and offers a full library of articles and resources designed to help people of all ages cope with grief.