EQUINUNCK, WAYNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Losing someone can be very difficult. But for kids, a death in their lives can be extremely painful. That’s why a camp in Pennsylvania is dedicated to helping grieving children feel like themselves again.
All 192 kids at Experience Camp have felt the loss of someone close to them. Counselors say kids who have had a loss in their lives are often overwhelmed by all the emotions they experience while they are grieving. As a result, it’s not uncommon for children to deeply isolate themselves.
Zander, who has been a camper for the past four years, says his experience at the camp has helped him learn how to have fun again.
“I lost my dad when I was nine. ‘Cause it was a really hard time for me. I just stopped caring about having fun. I just cared about sitting in my room really and just do nothing,” he said.
Kate Luther, the program director of the girls’ camp, says Zander isn’t the only camper who feels out of place outside the camp.
“Many of our campers go to school, or to their after-school activities and they’re the only person they know in their entire life that has lost a parent or their sibling,” she said.
Sandy, a fellow camper, says she and the other children attend Experience Camp because they want to be around other children who understand what it feels like to lose someone close to them.
“It’s like so helping because like when you’re at your home and stuff not a lot of people know what you mean. But when you’re here with all your friends and other people, it feels like they’re family and they know how you feel,” she said.
Campers entering fourth through tenth grade do all the traditional camp activities such as bonfires, swimming in the lake, and food-eating contests. But the fun is mixed with activities with clinical counselors where the children are able to express their feelings and talk about the people they lost in their lives.
“We provide support in terms of sharing circles, using memory-related projects. We talk about what to do, how to cope when we’re feeling really overwhelmed in our grief, when we’re maybe not in such a supportive environment like camp,” Jenna Wolfson, clinical director at the Pennsylvania camp, said.
Experience camps are held in five states across the country. The camp is split into a girls camp and a boys camp to help the children focus on themselves. Wolfson says kids leave camp with a network of friends, and also have a network of tools they can rely back on in terms of what they learn at camp.
“When my dad picked me up last year, instead of saying ‘I missed you’ I said ‘can I come back next year?'” Sandy said.
“If anybody else out there who has experienced a loss, they should definitely try coming here,” Zander said.
The Experience Camp is held at Camps Blue Ridge and Equinunck. You can apply for next summer at the camp’s website.