Camps may be cancelled, but grieving teens can still receive support

I attended a meeting in April, that I will never forget. The meeting was between the Executive Directors of dozens of grief organizations from across the country who were trying to come to terms with the overwhelming impact that COVID-19 was having on their work. From Connecticut to Oregon, these leaders in the delivery of bereavement support for children and teens, had spent months preparing to run their highly anticipated summer camps, created to give young people an opportunity to bond and heal together, while also enjoying camp activities.

Over the weeks that followed, I watched and listened as organization leaders researched and explored their options. They talked about the fact that grieving teens were already locked down at home, without access to their friends and support groups. Taking away camp seemed unthinkable. At the same time, they recognized their responsibility to keep campers safe, both physically and emotionally.

In May the National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC) hosted a webinar featuring Sara Deren, the founder and Chief Experience Officer of Experience Camps. Sara had been invited to speak about her team's decision to cancel the beloved summer camps that they had been looking forward to hosting this summer. I attended the webinar and was struck by Sara's honesty and also her clarity. One of the wonderful things about bringing kids together at camp, she said, is that you knew they had support from trained volunteers and staff, if they needed it. If they moved the camps online, Sara worried that they couldn't be sure that support was available. She was heartbroken about the decision to cancel, but also hopeful that they'd find new ways to support grieving children and teens this year.

I'm so happy that Grief Coach became one of those new ways.

In June Experience Camps purchased a package of Grief Coach subscriptions to give to their campers. Grief Coach has a teen series geared specifically for young people grieving the loss of a loved one, so it was great to know that - even though camp was canceled - Experience Camp teens could still get some personalized support this summer. They can now receive text messages from Grief Coach, with messages customized based on their age, relationship to the person who's died, and the cause of death too. The messages will be delivered all year long, bridging the gap until next year's summer camps return. If teens have friends or family members who want to help, Grief Coach will text them tips and suggestions too, so that - until camp returns - no-one will have to grieve alone.

Thank you to Sara, Chief Clinical Officer Cara Allen, and the rest of the Experience Camps team for leading the way with this new kind of bereavement care. If you'd like to support Experience Camps' efforts to provide year-round support including text-support, care packages and virtual camps, please donate to their Beyond the Bunk campaign.

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