Grieving children find solace at Experience Camps

Grieving children find solace at Experience Camps
Photo: Children and Experience Camps staff who attended Experience Camps in 2017. Photo courtesy of Experience Camps

VISTA — Experience Camps recently announced how it is accepting applications for its 2018 summer camp to help grieving children. Green Oak Ranch in Vista will be the venue in August so that children can take part in a weeklong camp with others who have also experienced the death of someone close to them.

Chief Clinical Officer of Experience Camps, Cara Allen, LCSW shared how the organization is marking its 10th year this summer. The central office is headquartered in Westport, CT while offering camps in CA, ME, GA, and PA.

“Experience Camps are free one-week camps for boys and girls who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling, or primary caregiver.  We provide campers with a program that helps build confidence, encourages laughter and allows them to navigate their grief through friendship, teamwork, athletics, and the common bond of loss,” Allen said.  “It is a safe environment where kids can explore their grief, break the isolation they may feel with their non-camp peers, and have a whole lot of fun. They have the opportunity to meet and connect with kids who are coping with similar challenges while getting all of the benefits of the traditional summer camp experience.”

Allen shared how the activities include team sports and camp tradition fun. During the week, they learn more about leadership while building a sense of confidence and cooperation.

“Under the guidance of professional bereavement staff, campers have the opportunity to share stories and remember the one who died, while exploring skills that will help them after camp,” she said, adding how she has been involved with Experience Camps for five years.

Campers range from nine years of age through high school. Each camper comes at different stages of their grief. Allen said some had experienced a recent death or perhaps years ago. All are welcomed and supported, she said.

Allen said how they encourage their campers to return every summer all the way into high school. Experience Camp lands toward the end of summer most times in Aug.

“We have also recently started a young adult retreat for our graduated campers,” she said.

Sadly, children experience the death of a loved one more frequently than someone might think. According to Allen, one in five children will suffer the death of someone close to them by the time they turn 18.

“Experience Camps is a place where kids can laugh, cry, play, create, remember the person who died, or forget the grief that weighs them down. It’s a place where they can feel ‘normal,’ because everyone there has been through something similar and understands what it’s like to lose someone important to them. It’s a home away from home,” Allen said.

Rahul Lakhwani, a member of the California Regional Advisory Council and two-year volunteer at Experience Camps calls the camp a real transformation. On a personal level, he calls it life-changing.

“You see kids who were scared and shy suddenly open up in a way that you would never have expected in a matter of just a couple of days. It’s just magical to see their transformation over the course of the week,” he said. “It creates an automatic relationship between themselves and every other person at the camp. From what I have seen, it turns complete strangers into best friends in a matter of hours.”

To learn more about Experience Camps, visit www.experience.camp. Allen said she is also available to answer questions by contacting her at cara@experience.camp.

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