Originally published in May 2012.
Samantha Worman had her first experience with Comfort Zone Camp in 2010, when she attended camp after the death of her father. Touched by the healing she experienced that weekend, she made a commitment to give back to another child in the future by volunteering as a Big Buddy. This is her story of her first time at camp as one of the beloved mentors called a Big Buddy.
A Camper’s Experience
When my phone rang one evening in November 2010 I knew exactly who it was. It was Bekah, my Big Buddy for the upcoming weekend at Comfort Zone Camp. I had never been to CZC and I was still raw from the death of my father, only seven months prior. When we talked Bekah assured me that camp was going to be a blast and we were going to have so much fun. I was anticipating this call, but I was still nervous to see who I was paired with and what the weekend would be like.
I was told about CZC through a friend Ed Whitacre, who had volunteer with Comfort Zone as a grief professional called a Healing Circle Leader. He approached me at our yearly Easter picnic; only a week after my father had suddenly passed and spent some time with me talking about this camp and the benefits it has for kids in my situation. He knew it was soon and when I first heard about it I wasn’t so sure. I was new in my grief and still in shock, but he told me to take my time and think about it. After a lot of thought and looking through the website I made the decision to attend camp. I knew that what I was feeling wasn’t going to last forever, and that maybe a weekend with 65 other kids who knew exactly what I was feeling would help me. I did not know what I was getting myself into, but I am glad that I took that step towards healing.
At school the Monday after camp I went to one of my teachers and told her that I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt lighter, happier and restored – all things that I had not been feeling for the seven months since my dad died. I left knowing that I would return as a Big Buddy someday. I knew that I would be working with Comfort Zone for many years to come giving back the priceless gift of healing that they gave me.
Becoming a Big Buddy
I had just gotten back to college from winter break when I had to make my phone call to my future Little Buddy. I was nervous and anxious because it was only two years prior that I was a Little Buddy myself. I tried to picture what I would say and ask Natalia, the seven year old who I would be spending a weekend with at Comfort Zone Camp. My hands were shaking as I dialed Natalia’s number. Her mother answered the phone and I introduced myself, after hearing how excited she was that I called, I was put at ease. My nervousness disappeared and a compassionate instinct took over. I could hear Natalia in the background asking to talk to me. Once we began talking it felt like we were made for each other. Comfort Zone matches Big Buddies and campers based on similar interests and personal strengths, and they matched us perfectly! We talked a little bit about the loss of her father, but then branched out to so many different subjects from what she liked to do in school to her pet frog’s name. When I was finishing up our conversation I reminded her of what to bring and told her I would see her Friday.
We had some meaning moments that first evening when I resolved her fears about coming into Healing Circle and the night time routine. It was really those first few moments that we met that bonded us as a Big and Little. It was the same for my big buddy and me when I went. Bekah was bubbly and kind and immediately we bonded. That is really where I give credit to the people who match the Big Buddies and campers, they do such an amazing job. They matched me with my Big Buddy perfectly when I was a camper, and when the time came to match me with a camper they were perfect again.
My Healing Circle when I was a camper was with other teenagers my age. We were quiet and apprehensive at first, it took time and trust for us to open up to each other. Our Healing Circle Leader assured us that we didn’t have to say anything we didn’t want to say, and that it was okay to cry. Being a Big Buddy, I now know how proud Bekah felt when I shared my store, because of how proud I was when Natalia shared hers.
Healing Circle for the youngest age group was truly a special experience to be a part of. In the youngest group I got a chance see that these little kids were mini adults in what they had experienced and how they told their stories. I watched them comfort each other and lean on each other when they needed it. I was brought to tears several times watching these young people be older than they had to be. One of the campers could barely make it thought his story so another camper came up to him, put his arm around him and held the tissues. They held on to each other until he stopped crying. Being able to watch the compassion and love that these kids have for each other is a privilege that I am honored to have. That was pure and raw emotion that we all saw, and it broke my heart but made it stronger too.
It amazes me how close you can become with one person over a series of three days. In one weekend I along with everyone else at camp helped heal someone. We by no means “fixed” them or made them better, but we helped ease some of their pain. Natalia went from being a stranger to my “little sister.” She was my first little and a little that I will never forget. I told her when her parents picked her up that she will always be my first little. She asked if I could be her big when she comes back to camp next year and I told her I would try. Having such a connection with someone eleven years younger than me is so eye opening. Our defining moment was at the bonfire after we had put our cards into the flames, when we sat down she grabbed me and finally let go. I put my head on top of her and the tears came out of my eyes too. We were so different yet right then and there we were the same. We both lost our fathers and we knew exactly what each other was feeling. That emotion was unparalleled to anything I had ever felt before about myself and about my father. It is because of those moments, and the experiences that we all share that I became a Big Buddy, and for those reasons I will do it again in a heartbeat.