Comfort Zone Camp

year 2, week 30:  this week i'm gonna... help grieving kids heal

Founded in 1998, Comfort Zone Camp was once based exclusively in Richmond, Virginia, offering regular bereavement camps for children who would travel from all over the country to attend... until one unimaginable disaster helped crystallize their mission. On September 11, 2001, terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands; the people at Comfort Zone knew they needed to reach out and help.

Within just a few months, they had prepared a special bereavement camp weekend for children who lost a parent or loved one in the Twin Towers. They took that camp to New Jersey, bringing their much-needed services to an area still in shock.

One of the campers was Katie Lalama, who was just 7 when her father, Franco Lalama, died in the World Trade Center. Fifteen years later, Katie enthusiastically volunteers for Comfort Zone, noting that she's attended "pretty much every camp, every year," since that first New Jersey weekend.

"If there's one word to describe it, it's clearly magic," Katie says. 

Katie herself is a success story of Comfort Zone. "After my dad passed away, I was very angry," she explains. "I didn't know how to handle my emotions, and the only way I knew how to channel it was through anger." Comfort Zone left her "a completely changed person," better able to work through her emotions and express her grief.

Katie Lalama (far left) volunteering with Comfort Zone Camp

Katie Lalama (far left) volunteering with Comfort Zone Camp

"Every part of it is special in every single way," states Katie. "Every activity you do revolves around grief, and a lot of times you don't realize it until after. It's amazing. Once you experience it, it's unforgettable."

Katie, now 23, is a recent college graduate and is starting her first job in the adult world. She's working in the nonprofit sector and eagerly awaiting the weekends when she can participate in new sessions of Comfort Zone Camp as a Big Buddy. "I always loved helping people," she says. "That's always what I wanted to do."

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The mission of Comfort Zone Camp is to help grieving children discover their capacity to heal, grow, and lead more fulfilling lives. Comfort Zone Camp offers programs that transform the lives of children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling, or legal guardian. Studies show that children who are left to handle grief alone are five times more likely to die by suicide^, nine times more likely to drop out of high school^^, ten times more likely to engage in substance abuse^^^, and 20 times more likely to develop behavioral disorders^^^^.

Comfort Zone Camp is working to break the emotional isolation that grief often brings with free programs, including camps, that incorporate confidence building programs and age-based support groups. Comfort Zone Camps are offered to children ages 7-17, with a young adult camp for ages 18-25, and 1-day programs for the entire family.  Their programs are held year-round across the country.  

To learn more about Comfort Zone Camp, please check out the below video:

Sources: ^USDHHS, Bureau of the Census, ^^National Principals Association, ^^^Rainbows for All God’s Children, ^^^^Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

An essential part of the Comfort Zone Camp model is pairing each and every camper with a Big Buddy who is individually chosen to be a perfect match. Big Buddies are adults (like Katie) who have been thoroughly screened and extensively trained. Many have experienced loss themselves.

Big Buddies help their Little Buddies in many ways as camp unfolds, but one of the key things they do is demonstrate how to talk about their grief. The Big Buddies will be the first to step up and share, modeling to the surviving children how to share their stories. After hearing their Big Buddies speak, the children are better prepared to share their own grief in a healing circle.

As CEO and Program Director Alesia Alexander puts it, Grief teaches us the secrets of our heart. I read this somewhere years ago when I first started this work.  It is something that I have kept in my mind as a reminder of how transformative and important this work is that we do with young people and families living with loss. I am always in awe of the courage that our kids and families display in and out of program as a part of their grief journeys."

Notes for this week:

  • International Day of Friendship is July 30th!
  • Our collective givetwig donation will sponsor a weekend camp for a child who has lost someone close to them.
  • For more information regarding Comfort Zone Camp, please check out their website.

this week i'm gonna donate to Comfort Zone Camp.

please share the givetwig awesomeness!