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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Top Stories > Health

‘Everyone here has lost someone'

Experience Camps help with life-altering loss

Aug 30, 2016

By Autumn Schanil - staff writer

From the left, Camp Counselor Alexandra Zaslow, Lillian Harvey, Jessica Timlin, and Camp Executive Director Sara Deren.
MONTICELLO — No two people grieve in the same way, with the same intensity, nor for the same duration of time.
Similarly, children understand and experience grief in a different way than adults. Their grief takes on different transformations as they themselves grow and change over time.
For this reason, and many others, Experience Camps was created nearly eight years ago in Oakland, Maine and extended to Camp Kennybrook in Monticello two years ago.
Known as the Kennybrook Experience, kids from near and far arrive together by bus, many of them for their first time, for a week-long stay completely free of charge, with other kids who all share one thing in common.
They are kids who have experienced the unimaginable and life-altering loss of a parent, sibling, or primary caregiver.

Originally a camp just for grieving boys entering grades four to 11, this year Kennybrook Experience welcomed girls entering grades four to seven.
“We originally started the experience camps just for boys for a few reasons,” explained Camp Executive Director Sara Deren. “More times than not, they aren't allowed to grieve in a way that girls can. Our society puts on a pressure from a young age that boys need to be tough, that they shouldn't cry or show emotion. That when things get tough, they need to get tough. They need to be ‘the man of the house' when a father or older brother dies. Here we want to show them that, no, you are still just a child. You aren't the man of the house at just eight, or 12 or 14. Here they can continue to be a kid.
“This year we have girls and they bring a completely different dynamic. Everything about them is different. The way they express their grief, the way they interact. They are constantly hugging.”
About 90 kids arrived at Camp Kennybrook on Monday, August 15th and were greeted by nearly 70 camp counselors cheering for them, giving them high-fives and offering hugs as their feet lifted off the last step of the big yellow bus.
“Because of some of the areas that we've included and targeted for our outreach, we are getting more kids from economically challenged families or kids that are in foster care,” said Deren. “We just went out and bought many of them clothes today because a lot of the kids showed up with just a backpack. We take care of them. They come here and they are safe, they are supported, and they are loved.”
The night of their arrival to camp, after being assigned to cabins and getting settled, the camp staff lit a campfire, told stories, played games with the kids, and ate s'mores.
Each day after begins with a wake-up call, breakfast, a quick cabin clean-up, followed by a full day of fun activities like basketball, ropes, archery, soccer, tennis, zip-lining and more.
The first and last day of camp, the kids have the opportunity to share their stories, grief and feelings in a “Sharing Circle” with members of their bunk.
“We used to only do the Sharing Circle on the first day but we had kids who didn't want to share that first day due to nervousness or whatever they were feeling,” explained Deren, “but by the end of the week they were ready to open up. So that's why we added another circle on the last day.”
Once the campers have lunch they have a rest period and then games and competitions begin. Activities ranging from relay races to scavenger hunts and more.
Many days are dedicated to memory projects and bereavement activities that are designed to provide kids with tools to communicate and understand their feelings.
“A lot of these kids can't play outside, because they have to be worried about being shot on the playground. And they can't think or allow themselves to grieve over their mom or dad or whoever they lost. The dynamics of their life just don't allow them to,” Deren stated. “If they're given good opportunities, positive things can come out of tragedy, even though that seems impossible. I guess that's the silver lining of it.”
Standing on the grounds of Camp Kennybrook, it's obvious how successful the camp has become. The campers are seen taking care of each other, even after only knowing each other for just one or two days. An older boy is seen helping a younger boy tie his shoes, others are seen giving each other supportive hugs. Girls are seen holding hands and painting each other's nails.
“Everyone is really nice and really fun, and I have friends here now who have gone through the same things as me. I'm really glad I came here,” said first-time-camper Jessica Timlin who traveled to Monticello from the State of Delaware. “I know that everyone here has lost someone and I finally don't feel alone anymore. Most of my friends don't get it, how it feels, and the things I'm going through.
“My mom was a really special person to me and I loved her a lot. She had a happy life but she lived a really short life. She was only 34,” said Timlin. “I loved being with her, and I was helping as much as I could, and I really wanted her to stay alive but I knew she had to go. She died on Valentine's Day, a few days before my birthday party.”
Another first-time-camper, 12-year-old Lillian Harvey, traveled by plane with just her brother all the way from Florida to stay at Camp Kennybrook for the week.
“I've been looking forward to coming to this camp since March, or earlier,” she said. “Everyone was so cheerful when we arrived.
“I lost my sister and my cousin in a plane crash. I shared my story in the Sharing Circle this morning and it felt really good to talk about it. We all held hands and squeezed each others hands if we needed to. We took deep breaths to release pressure.”
Many of the camp counselors who volunteer at Camp Kennybrook, as well as the other Experience Camps located in Maine and California, have themselves gone through Experience Camps after having lost someone.
Part of the mission of Experience Camps is to help kids cope with grief year after year. Grief is not something that can be cured or dealt with in just a week each year. According to Deren, grief goes through different stages, especially with children. They begin with the technicalities of the death ... the when and how. As they get older they begin asking why the death occurred and they may even feel guilt about it.
Second-time-camper Atticus Jamison from New Jersey, was really nervous his first time coming to camp.
“It took a while to adjust to this, and it's hard to talk about your parents, especially with other people you don't know that well,” said Jamison. “A person saw my dad, I guess he thought he had a lot of money or something and he shot him. He took all of his stuff.
“Here I feel like I can open up and get my anger out about what happened to my dad, but in a healthier way than I can at home. I normally keep my emotions inside. I don't like that about myself, but in some way I guess I kind of do.”
Research shows that a parent's death usually makes a severe impact on a child. They exhibit symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, angry outbursts, worry, depression and more. While many of these symptoms may fade over time, other problems like depression and lack of confidence are likely to continue.
Experience Camps hopes to help change that.
“My husband and I really wanted to give back that camp experience to kids that were less fortunate, who weren't getting all the values and benefits and all the things we believe in about camp,” Deren said. “A week of camp costs, more-or-less about $1,000 per camper. So we have a few foundations that support us but it's primarily funded through individual donations. Donations by people who believe in what we're doing. People who wish something like this had existed sooner.”
To learn more about Experience Camps or make donations to help give more young campers a chance at camp you can visit

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