Since the summer of 2011, I have annually served as a counselor at Camp Erin: Kara’s bereavement camp for children and teens. Now in our 12th year, we have provided a special space to grieve for over 850 kids. Each year as I reflect upon this transformative three-day camp, I gain a deeper appreciation and compassionate understanding of the power of healing that this weekend provides.
I certainly never would have imagined being part of such an important service to grieving children. I personally landed in the grief-work field after the death of my young daughter nearly 11 years ago. I was fortunate to receive wonderful support from Kara, and healed enough to give back to others through becoming a volunteer. My volunteer work then led to a paid opportunity, and for the last six years, I have served as Kara’s chief executive officer. While I love the responsibility of leading the agency, and have a passion for ensuring our services are of the highest quality, wearing my ‘peer support volunteer hat’ provides deep meaning and fulfillment. Whether its facilitating a group for bereaved parents or being a Camp Erin counselor with over 50 other volunteers supporting 90 grieving kids this weekend, I feel incredibly privileged – a privilege with a purpose.
This ‘camp year’ brings with it even more meaning. It will be the first time I serve as a counselor since my father Joe died of a neurological disease last fall. For the last eight camps, holding my daughter close to my heart throughout the weekend has always helped me stay connected to the campers. However, there is something about the death of my dad that seems to connect me to the camp on a deeper level. My dad was my personal hero. He was the person who taught me to be of service to others, and to be kind and generous to everyone. I strive to follow his example. As I think about my relationship with him, and the huge void I sense of not being able to share my accomplishments, ask for guidance, or celebrate together over a winning sports team, I feel quite privileged, and also acutely reminded that many of our campers have suffered the death of a parent (or other very significant person).
For nearly the entirety of their lives, they will need to navigate their loss. And while Camp Erin is only three days of their journey, it provides a sacred space and catalyst for healing, deep connections with other grieving kids, and coping tools that can be drawn upon for a lifetime.
Being present, and in service to these grieving children this weekend is not only humbling, but a true privilege with a purpose. I know my dad would approve.
I am looking forward to the start of camp tomorrow. Let the healing begin!
Kara Executive Director