Originally published in January 2013.
When asked to describe Comfort Zone Camp in a one word, I realized this can be extremely difficult to do. It is hard to describe something so inspiring in just one word, while also doing justice to the full and amazing weekend that is a Comfort Zone Camp. Yet as I think about this question, the one word that constantly comes to mind is Family. When my mom passed away almost three years ago, a piece of my family was unexpectedly ripped away from me.
This notion of family has been one that I have always held extremely close to my heart. My Mom loved to sing Sister Sledge’s song, “We are Family.” She would grab my brother and dance around the living room as she pointed to his three sisters, saying “You’ve got all your sisters with you!” My two sisters and I would laugh as she would expect us to engage in her spontaneous living room dance party. There are numerous memories like this, that make missing my Mom extremely hard. Thankfully, I have found support in numerous family and friends throughout the past three years and continue to find support in new family members every day. Comfort Zone Camp has provided me with additional family members that have been one of the best support systems I could ever ask for.
While nothing could ever replace my Mom, every time I go to camp my camp family grows a little bit bigger, making it a bit easier for me to cope with my loss. Since starting to volunteer at Comfort Zone Camp I have met so many amazing individuals. There are Big Buddies that I now look up to as mother and father figures – people that I know I could rely on for advice or support. Through my time at camp I have also met some amazing friends that I would consider to be long lost siblings. I will never forget meeting my very first friend during my very first camp as a Big. Not only did we look alike with our blond hair and blue eyes, but there were numerous times when staff members would confuse our names throughout the weekend. From then on we have loved joking around and referring to ourselves as sisters while purposely dressing alike at future camps.
While camp has allowed me to find “long lost” family members and create lasting relationships with volunteers, it has also helped to strengthen the relationships I’ve always had. This summer I was honored to have the opportunity to bring my littlest sister, Ireland, to experience Comfort Zone Camp as a camper. I will never forget when Ireland asked me if I could help her fill out the camper application because she felt like she was ready to take that next step. Until this point family and friends had listened to me talk about Comfort Zone Camp but I had yet to have someone close to me experience it for themselves. When I picked Ireland up from camp on Sunday I couldn’t help but tear up from the smile on her face. In contrast to our ride there, which was full of anticipation and anxiety about the weekend ahead, our drive back to Connecticut on Sunday was full of laughter and stories of her weekend. She never stopped talking about the friends she had made and the activities they had done. She smiled as she voiced how happy she felt knowing that there were other people her age that could connect with her loss. Coming to camp has allowed Ireland to begin creating her own Comfort Zone family, which is a priceless gift both for her and for me.
After my sister and I had started creating our own camp families, we felt that it was extremely important to allow other families the opportunity to begin creating their own. During our ride home from camp in June we made it our mission to participate in NJ’s third annual Grief Relief Walk that would be taking place in September. Knowing that takes $500 to send a camper to camp, our goal was to raise $2,000 dollars. This would be enough to send four children to camp. We thought our own family of four siblings, and really wanted to be able to raise the funds for a similar group of siblings to have the opportunity to experience camp.
As the date of the walkathon drew near, I was continuously honored by the sheer number of family and friends that took the time to read our family’s story and to donate to CZC on our behalf. Some gave small donations, while some gave large amounts, but I knew that every single dollar was a gift of love. By the time the walk began, Ireland and I were thrilled to have encouraged 41 donors to raise $2,585 dollars.
Driving to New Jersey knowing that we had raised that much money for our Comfort Zone Family was a exciting feeling. When we walked into the park where the event was being held, I saw familiar faces that made me feel right at home. There were staff members, volunteers and even campers. I was able to catch up with some of my favorite big buddies and introduce my sister to some of my closest friends from camp. I was also able to meet a wonderful women that I had only had the privilege of talking to over Facebook for the past couple months. Lori, is a mom of a camper and a huge advocate and volunteer for Comfort Zone after seeing its benefits for herself and her son. Since April, we have been social media friends, as she has sent me words of encouragement and even helped me win a photo contest. But, it wasn’t until this walk that we had the chance to meet in person. It was incredible to have the opportunity to give her a hug and say thank you for all that she does and continues to do for this family.
After mingling with everyone and participating in the raffles, we had an opportunity to hear how much the teams had raised. My sister and I raised $2585. When that amount was combined with our team members, the nine of us were able to raise $5,710 dollars for Comfort Zone Camp! Not only did my sister and I exceed our goal but with the help of our team members and 126 donors, we raised the most money of any NJ Grief Relief team! This means that 11 children will soon have the ability to come to camp and begin expanding their own family of grief support.
I would like to encourage anyone that is looking for something to get involved in to seriously consider volunteering for Comfort Zone Camp. Just find a day to do the training and schedule a weekend that you can devote to these kids, and I promise you will forever be changed. At first I was hesitant because regardless of experiencing a loss or not, being a big buddy for a child can sound like a daunting task. But once you realize the actual task is being a friend, it’s really not so daunting at all. Or maybe you could consider participating in a run or walk to raise awareness and funds for Comfort Zone Camp. It doesn’t matter where you live, or whether you have even been to camp, you can still make a difference in the life of a child or teen is living with grief.
Every child that comes to camp just wants to be loved. They want you to play games with them, laugh with them and comfort them if needed. They want someone to honor their memories, their tears, and their hopes for the future. As volunteers we are asked to meet these children where they are and help them discover where they want to go from there.
This year I have had the chance to create friendships with four inspiring young campers and can’t wait to meet many more. I encourage you to experience the magic that is Comfort Zone Camp. Afterwards you may find that the way you would describe camp is through the word family, or even better, with one word that is incredibly unique to your own experience.