A fun and safe place for grieving children.

Blogs

We'll Never Forget

ONE'S LIFE AND CHARACTER ARE WOVEN BY EXPERIENCES AND STORIES SHARED WITH THOSE WE LOVE AND MEET ALONG THE JOURNEY –  ESPECIALLY THE YOUNGEST AMONG US.

 

Most of you have vivid memories of that Tuesday morning 16 years ago – the day referred to as 911.  Here are some glimpses into mine.   I had been asked to take a temporary assignment in New York City until a new Regional HUD Director was secured. 

 

That Tuesday, I was up bright and early welcoming a “picture perfect” New York morning – one forecaster said it was quiet up and down the Eastern Seaboard- “too quiet” he stated.  New Yorkers were heading to the polls to vote for a mayor and other public offices; many parents were taking their children to school – some for the first time.  We’ll never know how many lives were spared due to these two time consuming detours.  I took the subway to the Federal Building, and rode the elevator to my 35th floor office with breathtaking views of the East River, Brooklyn Bridge, and Twin Towers – so close they provided shade to my office which I didn’t realize until they were gone.

 

At 8:45am, a colleague and I were standing at a co-worker’s desk – with the towers in clear view.  Literally out of the view, the building shook, windows vibrated, and a huge fireball exploded from the north tower. 

 

My colleague, a native New Yorker, screamed in horror that it had to be a bomb – recalling the 1993 car bomb denotation at the WTC that killed 6 and injured hundreds.  The terrorist had hoped then that the explosion would cause the North Tower to fall on the South Tower but fortunately their attempt failed.  After settling my colleague, I went to the lobby where security guards were scurrying about in confusion.  The media was reporting a small aircraft had crashed.  Returning to my office with that possibility, my immediate focus was to create some calm amidst the growing anxiety.  Then I watched the unbelievable, horrific scene unfold thru my binoculars.  Others covered every available window space anticipating an air rescue team to carry those above the hit to safety.  One of my most vivid memories was that of a young woman whose office was above the 80th floor, waving what appeared to be her red top – an S.O.S. – sadly the heat proved too intense to carry out such a dangerous mission.   What felt like just minutes later, a 2nd plane slammed into the South Tower.  I instinctively knew then we were under attack and ordered the staff to evacuate by shouting “We’re outa here!”.  Some continued to be frozen in shock and disbelief.  I contacted the other floors and ordered everyone out – those you were able to take the stairs and reserve the elevators for those who needed them.  On my way down the 35 flights, I honestly thought this was the end as we formed a human chain and held hands tightly.  The FBI and Homeland Security were also tenants and some thought we were the next target. 

 

What you don’t think about in that type of mass emergency is that people have different levels of endurance.  The person in front of my suffered from an injury, another’s asthma started acting up.  It took a lot of inner strength to continue at a slower and not panic. 

 

Once outside, it was eerily quiet – cell phones weren’t working and people were simply speechless.  A colleague grabbed my hand and pulled me with him to the subway.  Most people had no idea what had just happened.  That decision to leave haunted me for quite some time. 

 

I walked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to say a prayer and sat on the steps – not knowing what to do next.  Someone shouted and pointed at a huge white cloud (like photos I’d seen of the atom bomb) – mushrooming from the site of the WTC a few miles away – it was the collapse of the towers.  Almost immediately, the air was consumed with sounds of sirens. 

 

Returning to my hotel, I felt restless, vulnerable, concern for others, and an overwhelming to reach my family.  Telephone networks had crashed and I went to the nearby Sheraton to use their pay phones, only to be told I could not enter unless I could prove I was a guest.  New York was shutting down quickly.  The normal hustle and bustle was evolving into a city gripped by fear and sadness.  The city was in a lock-down mode – you couldn’t get in or out.  Suspicion was rampant and all available firefighters, medics, police, and military were called to duty.  We were in a war zone.   

 

The HUD Secretary offered to send me home as soon as things settled, and I advised him my retired Navy Chief husband totally supported and encouraged my staying put – I was now a New Yorker at heart and wanted to remain as long as I was able to make a positive contribution.  The days following, my adrenalin was working overtime – my senses were heightened – my brain spooked at anything unfamiliar such as noises from above to people I encountered anywhere.  A plane, even today, appearing so small flying near tall buildings sends a chill up my spine – an instant re-play. 

 

NYC streets were devoid of people, autos, buses, taxis – it was beyond a strange scene.  Stunned police officers were still patrolling their beat, exhausted and grieving firefighters were grateful for treats, meals, or simply a nod of gratitude.  American flags adorned their trucks and they sounded horns when people waved or gave them a “thumbs up”. 

 

My sister compared “Ground Zero” to Armageddon with first responders and all manner of volunteers helping and serving food and beverages to very weary workers – many who were searching for their loved ones in the smoldering rubble.  It was a graveyard and respected as such.  A military salute was given to anyone whose remains were uncovered as they were being removed from the site.  Days passed, the number of missing rose – to as high as 4,000. 

 

The Federal Building reopened with executive staff only reporting to work.  Lower Manhattan was designated a “frozen zone” and required special ID to enter.   A thick layer of ash the streets and interior office windows and a strange odor permeated the air.  The building’s carpet was hosed down daily and I was required to wear a gas mask that covered my entire face. 

 

We strongly supported each other and the message was that we’ll never get over it, but will work together to get beyond it.  The windows of major department stores were either stripped or draped in black.  Somber processions of mock funerals with mournful drumbeat filled 7th Avenue throughout the night.  Houses of worship, hotels, office held vigils.  Subway stops became photo galleries for missing persons – hospitals were overburdened and make-shift morgues were set up throughout the city.  Posters went up everywhere noting available resources to help. 

 

In February 2002, I retired to Richmond leaving behind so many memories of NY.  Topping the list is the deep love and respect for a city that, under the most unimaginable siege, rose up and did whatever was necessary to help heal the hurt and rebuild the unimaginable damage. 

 

The population in lower Manhattan is now 3X what it was in 2001 and the world warmly embraced the beautiful monument dedicated to all those we lost.  We remember them today- loved ones to some, strangers to most.  We recall the harrowing reports of the heroes aboard United Flight 93.  Today we continue to hold proudly our reputation as the greatest nation on earth – the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

 

Our stories and experiences do, in many ways, define us – who we are and who we’re yet to be.  And the haunting memories of 16 years ago live on.  May we all remember the patriotic spirit we’ve treasured for more than 260 years and may that spirit be woven into the stories we share.  We’ll never forget……

 

Mary Ann Wilson
Comfort Zone Camp Volunteer and RAC Member

The Girl with the Dead Dad...Sarah's Story

 

When I was in the sixth grade, my dad died. Everyone said I was “so strong” because my grades were good and I kept up my extra-curricular activities but I didn’t feel strong- I just felt alone. I was “The Girl with the Dead Dad” and I didn’t know how to go back to being “Sarah.” I struggled to connect with my friends; I didn't know how to talk about my dad and I didn't know how to not talk about my dad, either.

 

Two and a half years after my dad died, my mom signed me up to go to Comfort Zone Camp in New Jersey. I lived in Massachusetts. You want me to go talk about this thing I hate talking about… for a whole weekend? No thanks. But I went.

 

In the CZC bubble, I wasn’t “The Girl with the Dead Dad” anymore; I was just myself. CZC taught me how to grieve in ways that weren't so overwhelming and gave me a chance to talk about my dad on my terms. I continued to attend CZC as a camper throughout high school, and each time I became more comfortable talking about my grief and gained a larger support network. Outside of camp, I was able to get over the wall between my grief and my friends. I wasn’t alone anymore.

 

In my senior year of high school I began volunteering for CZC; it was important to me to give back to the community that had provided me with so much.  As a volunteer, I observed the importance of mental health professionals and became interested in how children’s age affects how they show their grief. Therefore, I chose to attend a college with a strong psychology department and focus my undergraduate studies on developmental psychology. When I thought about what I wanted to do after college, there were two options: help prevent childhood bereavement or help support CZC’s mission.  I’ve opted to try both. 

 

Currently, I work as a clinical research coordinator at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute with doctors and researchers who are striving to find a cure for patients with brain tumors. In the fall, I will begin a doctoral program in psychology with the eventual goal of researching how to better support grieving children. Comfort Zone Camp didn’t just provide me with healthy coping skills and an extremely supportive community; it became my source of inspiration. I feel so lucky to be a part of the bubble. 

 

Sarah Charbonneau first attended CZC as a camper in 2006 and has been hooked ever since. She has attended a volunteer training and her first camp as a volunteer in 2009, and has since volunteered at 10+ camps as a Junior Counselor, Floater, and Big Buddy in MA and VA. Sarah has additionally fundraised for the Grief Relief 5k, shared how CZC has impacted her at a presentation at Yale University, and participated in the camper panel at a volunteer training.  Sarah loves spreading awareness about Comfort Zone and why it is such a needed community wherever she goes (pictured during a trip to Iceland).

 

Volunteers Shine at National Conference

The 2017 NAGC Annual Symposium features presentations and workshops from thought-leaders across the country in the field of childhood grief.  This year, Comfort Zone volunteers will present their knowledge and expertise on a vast range of topics.  Healing Circle Leader Victoria Keyser, MSW, Psy.D will educate session participants on group play interventions for preschoolers.  Healing Circle Leader Michelle Post, M.A., MFT (Manager of Donor Family Aftercare at OneLegacy) will cover experiential exercises and use lecture and interactive discussions to help participants add activities to their tool boxes.  Young Adult Group Leader Donna L. Schuurman, Ed.D. (Senior Director of Advocacy & Training at The Dougy Center) will provide a critical analysis for deconstructing the case for complicated grief. 

 

Workshops led by Comfort Zone staff include “Urban Populations Forum” (CEO Alesia K. Alexander, MSW, LCSW, CT), “Implementation of a Clinical Advisory Council” (Director of Strategic Partnerships Abby Moncrief, MEd, NCC), and “The Joy of Giving - Turning Passion in to Dollars” (Engagement Director Anne-Marie Worthy, BS).  Comfort Zone is humbled and grateful for the depth of clinical expertise our volunteers bring to the field, and to our programs.

 

 

Camper Honors His Dad and Pays it Forward

 

Fourteen year old camper Jake Mailloux became a fundraiser on Saturday, June 3rd when he hosted a golf tournament in memory of his father, Joe.  Jake aimed to send two children to camp ($1200) as well as raise awareness about Comfort Zone in his community. Jake thought, “What better way than to play the sport my Dad loved so much, GOLF!” 

 

With 50 golfers, numerous tee-box sponsors, and silent auction items, Jake’s “Mailloux Master’s” Golf Tournament (along with the humble help of his step-dad Chris) raised SIX times his initial goal – donating over $7,200 to CZC!

 

Thank you Jake, Chris and the entire Mailloux and Petersen families, friends, and all of the local community supporters! It was truly impressive to see Jake’s passion to help send other kids to camp to experience what he did and to see everyone rally around him, even if they didn’t know him.

 

Click here to become a fundraiser just like Jake and to learn about how to honor your loved one while sending more kids to camp!

 

 

 

Cupcake Fundraiser kicks off the Summer

Volunteer Ozzie Khan held his third cupcake fundraiser at Cupcakes by Carousel to benefit Comfort Zone in Ridgewood NJ on June 3rd. These delicious cupcakes are served and sold at exclusive restaurants, gourmet shops, and country clubs; the treats have been featured on television programs such as “The View” and in many magazines including Oprah’s famous “O List” of Favorite Things. Oprah’s favorite? The Red Velvet Cake!

It was a great location to raise awareness about Comfort Zone for both campers and volunteers, not to mention holding a fundraiser and receiving additional donations from passersby – raising a total of $1,200!

A portion of each sale was donated to Comfort Zone - thank you Ozzie and Cupcakes by Carousel for helping to send kids and young adults to Comfort Zone. Thank you to volunteers Joe Mastrogiovanni, Dianna (Rowell) Boschulte, Caitlin Fabrocini, and Samantha Lynn Brown for helping to set up and staff the table with Ozzie. And, of course, to everyone who stopped by!

Are you/your children looking for something great to do this summer? We would love for you to hold a fundraiser to benefit Comfort Zone! Click here and scroll through the page for some ideas, helpful information, and finally where to register your fundraiser. 

 

Comcast Cares Day

Comfort Zone’s theme this year is “contribute” and that's exactly what Comcast’s Cares Day is all about – contributing to the community!  Every year since 2001, Comcast has provided its employees with the opportunity to give back to the communities they serve. 

 

On Earth Day (Saturday, April 22), a group of 141 Comcast employees and volunteers, including some CZC families and volunteers, helped clear and clean up trails to prepare Mine Falls Park, Nashua NH for the summer season – all 325 acres!  For each person that participated, Comcast will be making a generous grant donation to Comfort Zone Camp. Lexi Casale (two time project lead for its Cares Day CZC project and CZC volunteer) also made a submission to their Comcast Cares Day essay contest and she won!  As a result, CZC was surprised with a $500 check donation at the park. Comcast also provided lunch via Uno’s, a longtime partner of CZC's, as an Uno’s DoughRaiser which will result in a % back donation. 

 

If that wasn't enough, Michele Lazcano and Jim Goff were there from Fox 25 to create an 'Around Town' segment about Comcast Cares Day, Mine Falls Park and Comfort Zone. Here’s the link, including interviews with a camper family: http://www.fox25boston.com/specials/around-town/people-helping-people/516513649. Michele is also a member of Comfort Zone’s Regional Advisory Council.

 

Thank you Comcast and Lexi for selecting Comfort Zone and for your ongoing support and generosity. Thank you Mine Falls Park, Fox 25, Uno’s, and everyone who volunteered that day. 

Andrew's 20-Hour Workout Challenge

20 years + 20 Hours = $93,011

 

Comfort Zone Board member and volunteer Andrew Weinman “exercised” his support for Comfort Zone Camp in a whole new way.  On May 6th, he spearheaded the “The 20-Hour Workout Challenge”, in honor of the 20 year anniversary of his father’s death. 

 

Together with teammates and fellow volunteers Matt Louthan, Connor Creech and Alyssa Steinweiss, they completed 20 hours of continuous exercise from 6am to 2am the next morning.  The event produced more than exhaustion, sore muscles, and sweat - it raised $93,011 for Comfort Zone! 

 

Andrew humbly explained, “First, I’m not very good at much else.  More importantly, however, research shows that physical exercise is one of the best grief coping skills.  For me, these past 20 years without my father have been a continuous struggle despite being at peace with his death.  This 20-hour challenge represents that ongoing 20-year struggle….Grief isn’t an acute illness, however it is an acute emotion that can truly affect us all just like an illness.  For children, grief can be devastating.”

 

We disagree that Andrew isn’t very good at much else, but agree that grief can be devastating.  His challenge will allow more children to attend our programs and discover their capacity to heal, grow and lead more fulfilling lives. 

 

Huge thank you to Andrew, Matt. Connor, Alyssa, and all the people who supported them!

 

Have your own idea for a fundraiser?  We’d love to hear about it!  E-mail here: I Have a Fundraising Idea! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Life Rewritten: Amanda's Story

This past Mother’s Day, I felt especially lucky to have my daughter Grace. What they say is true: nothing really prepares you for the love you feel for your child.  She is my world. 

 

But I also know I wouldn’t be her mother, celebrating Mother’s Day, without Comfort Zone.  Actually I’m pretty sure I wouldn't be celebrating anything without Comfort Zone. 

 

As a teenager, I wasn’t coping with my father’s sudden death.  I was in a deep depression and can remember feeling an overwhelming darkness - as if I was in a tunnel without a light.  I hid these feelings from everyone, but my mom must have known something because she sent me to Comfort Zone. 

 

That first day of camp was also the first step to finding the light in the dark. Looking back nineteen years later, I can confidently say that's the moment when my life changed course.  I started to believe I would be okay and started on a completely different route than where that dark tunnel was leading me. 

 

I’m sharing some pictures with you because the founder of Comfort Zone and all the people that supported her vision, played a role in every one of these moments. If you are someone who supports children through Comfort Zone, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  

 

If you'd like to be part of more stories and family moments, please consider making a gift here: Donate

 

Your involvement with Comfort Zone is creating change.  My family and all the families impacted by your care are grateful for you. 

 

Amanda Ryan Tucker

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samsung Electronics America supports Comfort Zone Camp!

 

Samsung’s Hope for Children has become a close friend of Comfort Zone Camp this past year.  They supported the New Jersey fall weekend camp program through a grant, and with a technology donation to our organization we have been able to upgrade our staff laptops.  These generous donations allow for funds to go directly to program costs so that more children in grief can receive services.

 

We are so fortunate and grateful to Samsung for their generous support.  We look forward to this relationship growing in the coming years.

 

 

 

 

2017 Provides New Opportunities for Families Grieving

 

After years of requests for services for the entire family, Comfort Zone Camp is thrilled to offer expanded Family Programs throughout 2017! Over the past 12 months, new programs were piloted in locations across the country as Family or Holiday Programs, receiving tremendous feedback.

 

“Meeting others, activities that allow you to say things, think about things, and remember the person … together!” shared one parent in response to what was most meaningful for their family. “You fear they’re going to forget him, what they did together, what he liked, his favorite music, etc. This opened up the dialogue a little bit, and we looked at the art project again a few days later.”

 

The Family Program provides an opportunity for the entire family, youth, parents, and connected family members, to come together for a half-day, to share with one another about their experiences, learn about grief and their family’s responses, connect with others through shared experiences, and learn how to care for one another – all of which are important building blocks to healthy grieving.  

 

Individuals grieve in different ways, which means families experience grief from many different lenses.  Oftentimes this can lead to misunderstanding, cause conflicts, and anxiety.  Using Comfort Zone’s traditional activity-based model, the Family Program accomplishes all of this with a comfortable, inviting approach, and even a dose of fun and laughter.

 

For youth who have participated in programs in the past, it’s a great touch point – especially as time passes and they are faced with additional changes and difficult junctures. It’s a great way to get back into the beloved “bubble” for half a day, as a family unit.

 

For first time attendees, the Family Program is a great starting point and stepping stone into exploring grief, as well as Comfort Zone. Families attend together, see what it’s like, meet staff and volunteers, as well as meet other families before the kids attend a weekend program overnight – something many children and families struggle with. The “bite-size” Family Program is approachable, doable, and allows the entire family to leave with a shared experience and common platform to continue the conversation at home.

 

“The best part for new families is the ice breakers. Comfort Zone makes it comfortable right from the start. Getting there can be tough. You’re not sure what you’re walking into. Comfort Zone made it the easiest thing – I talked for one minute with a child in the room about our favorite food – hamburgers – and it was so easy, and fun! I’ve never been a part of something like that,” shared one family.

Comfort Zone Camp Hires National Program Director

Comfort Zone Camp is very pleased to announce that Alesia K. Alexander, MSW, LCSW, CT has been hired in the role of National Program Director and will start on December 19, 2016. Alesia comes to Comfort Zone with a wealth of experience in the arena of grief. Most recently she served as the Founder and Executive Director of Project KARMA, Inc., a healing community and forum for educating and supporting at-risk youth and families on issues of grief and loss.

 

As a licensed clinical social worker, Alesia has over 18 years of experience in community-based, non-profit, hospice, and mental health settings. In her new role at Comfort Zone, she will be responsible for strategic leadership, management, and oversight of all of Comfort Zone Camp programs and services. 

 

“Alesia’s accomplishments and dedication within the field of grief and loss are simply too extensive to list here, as she has dedicated her life and career to this field on so many levels,” said Mary Beth McIntire, CEO of Comfort Zone Camp. “We are fortunate to have Alesia joining our team and look forward to the spirited and compassionate approach that she brings to all of her work.”

 

Alesia is also an accomplished author, having published several books, including one called Dream Clouds, a beautifully written and illustrated book that offers a child’s perspective into the experience of grief, and Tapestries: A Creative & Inclusive Approach to Grief Support for Youth & Communities.

 

"Being a part of the Comfort Zone Camp vision for grief support for children and families living with loss is the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Alesia. “I am bowled over by the passion of the leadership team, CZC staff, and stakeholders in challenging the perceptions of the child and adolescent grief experience, and grief support at the micro and macro levels. I am pleased to be engaged as a part of the team. The task of supporting current programs, and also crafting new ways to support and grow programming that is resonant, reflective, and innovative for families nationally is exciting." 

 

Alesia is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served on numerous boards and community organizations. She is a past board member for National Alliance for Grieving Children, 2009-2013, and has lent her time and talent to the National Alliance for Grieving Children and the Association for Death Education and Counseling.

 

Please join us in welcoming Alesia to the Comfort Zone community

Comfort Zone Launches Grief Focused Holiday Programs for the Entire Family

 

Holidays are especially hard for children who have experienced the death of a family member. They are all too aware of the empty seat at the table, or change in family traditions.  

 

Comfort Zone Camp has added three Family Holiday Programs focused specifically on holiday grief to address this need. The program presents the entire family with creative ways to honor loved-ones during the holiday season through dynamic activities.

 

These programs are open to youth ages 5-25 who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling, or legal guardian, along with their entire family such as grandparents, aunts and uncles.  As a family, participants will focus on how they can work together to remember their loves one(s), create new memories, and care for each other, especially during the holiday season.

 

Attend a Holiday Program in your area. Share with others. Click on the program closest to you and register today!

 

Back-To-School Tips for supporting a child in grief

School is the child’s work. Just as adults have jobs, kids undergo stressful deadlines, increased work, and are graded on their performance. When there is an increase in stress, grief can surface and create complicated feelings and inhibit academic and social performance; this is why Comfort Zone programs are provided year round.  Here are helpful tips for preparing for the upcoming school year.

 

  • Open Dialogue: Encourage open dialogue about the upcoming school year with your student. Ask open-ended questions that allow for thoughtful responses: “What are you looking forward to this year?” “What are some things I can do to help?” Include discussion about the best ways to support them: “I know when I am having a tough day I like to listen to music in the car on the way to pick you up. I also like talking to my friends who make me feel better.”
  • Predict, Plan, Prepare: Predicting that there will be difficult times does not mean there will be, it just helps you as the parent. Inform the school system of the death, and work with teachers, counselors, and administrators to develop a plan to support the student. Identify and prepare a ‘School Advocate’ (a trusted mentor at school that the grieving student respects and trusts) so the student has someone they can talk to during school hours.
  • Control: Teachers and parents should give the student/child permission to make their own choices about who, how, and when to share their grief. Remind each child that their grief is individual and their own; empower them to control the conversation by sharing as little, or as much, as they are comfortable.
  • Coping: Identify activities (outside of schoolwork) that can serve as coping skills. Creativity and imagination are great ways to develop a child's coping skills. Encourage them to find or reinvest in activities that they are good at and find interesting. Recreation is vital for the development of attributes that contribute to resiliency, and can diversify a student’s peer group.
  • Rest & Sleep: Research confirms that children who rest more, sleep better. An exhausted child does not sleep better. Help the child make space in his or her schedule for down-time and sleep (between 8-12 hours daily depending on age). A healthy body and mind lead to better management of stress and emotions.

 

School is exciting, and can help children in grief establish structure and accountability. Parents can support the transition by being open with their child, and by empowering the school - and the youth - to find the best tactics that work for them.  Have a great year!

Bob Delonti Receives National Recognition from the National Alliance for Grieving Children

Comfort Zone Camp is pleased to announce that Bob Delonti, longtime volunteer, supporter and board member, was presented with the National Alliance for Grieving Children’s Founder’s Volunteer Award, in recognition of significant contributions to the field of children's grief support as a volunteer at the end of June. The Founder's Volunteer Award is given annually to one individual who has made a significant contribution to the field of children’s grief support as a volunteer.

 

For over 12 years, Bob has served as a dedicated volunteer for Comfort Zone. Sue Oppici, Regional Development Officer for Comfort Zone, shared “Bob has given much more than his time -- he has given his heart and soul to help campers and families who desperately need an anchor in the midst of the storm of their loss and trauma. It would be easy to quote the number of program weekends he has volunteered for Comfort Zone (50+), or the number of hours he has volunteered in direct service to clients (just shy of 3,000 hours). After his first camp weekend, he started holding BBQs in his backyard with family and friends to raise money for Comfort Zone. Neighbors started wheeling their grills over so that they had more grilling capability for more and more people. Bob’s open arms and bear hugs tug at everyone’s hearts ... and wallets. Then through a formal fundraising event at a restaurant, he raised over $35,000 in order to hold a camp program in California. This one man, Bob Delonti, has raised awareness about the need for services and childhood grief, while spreading awareness about Comfort Zone’s programs.” 

 

Bob’s honor was formally recognized at the 20th Annual NAGC Symposium on Children’s Grief in Indianapolis on Friday, June 24, 2016 at the A Little Hope Foundation Founder's Breakfast. Bob’s story with Comfort Zone began over 12 years ago. He was on a plane to Italy and was looking for something to read, when he stumbled upon a magazine that featured an article about Comfort Zone Camp. At that time he felt such a strong pull to Comfort Zone’s mission that he knew as soon as he was back in the United States he would have to get involved in some way. Bob called Comfort Zone’s headquarters in Virginia and within the next week he was on a plane to Virginia to volunteer for this first camp program.

 

As a Board Member for Comfort Zone Camp, Bob has helped to steer and position the organization for growth to serve more children in grief. During Bob’s tenure with Comfort Zone Camp he has volunteered over 3,000 hours at camp programs and has helped raise over $150,000 to provide children in grief with a safe place to grieve, heal, and grow.

 

“Bob is a shining example of what it means to be absolutely selfless. He has provided vision and leadership along with thousands of volunteer hours to help bring the mission and vision of Comfort Zone Camp to life,” said Mary Beth McIntire, CEO of Comfort Zone. “Because of his dedication, hard work, and unrelenting determination to make sure that each child in grief has a resource, Comfort Zone Camp was extremely proud to nominate Bob Delonti for the NAGC Founder’s Volunteer Award.”

 

Thank you Bob for being a comfort zone for others! 

 

Click here to see part of Bob’s acceptance speech. 

Remembering Dad on Father's Day

 

Remembering Dad on Father’s Day

By Alisha Krukowski

 

Father’s Day can be a rough holiday when you feel like you are the only one without a dad. It can be tempting to just ignore the day. Instead of pretending Father’s Day doesn’t exist, or doesn’t matter, try to find fun and meaningful ways to make the day a good one.

 

Here are a few suggestions for ways to remember and celebrate your dad on this special day:

 

  • Connect with his friends. Ask them to share a funny story about your dad, or what it was about your dad that made them feel close to him.

 

  • Write about your dad and positive things he used to say to you. Buy or make a card that expresses what you’d like to say to you dad, his favorite quotes or write down the positive things he told you.

 

  • Watch a movie or TV show that he liked. Think about why your dad enjoyed it, and what he might have said while watching it with you.

 

  • Ask other family members to join you in celebrating your dad on Father’s Day. Spend the day with your mom, siblings, grandparents or aunts and uncles. Do something that you all loved doing with your dad.

 

  • Find a song that reminds you of your dad, and share it. Find a video of a song on YouTube that reminds you of your dad and share the link.

 

Try one or two of these, or combine them all to design an entire day of celebration. You get to decide how you want to remember your dad, and what you want your own traditions to be.

 

Have you thought of unique ways to remember your dad on Father’s Day? 

 

 

 

 

 


 

FROM THE HEART: Making the Connection

Sarah first came to Comfort Zone Camp two years after her dad’s death and then became a “Big Buddy” volunteer.  In reflecting on her own grief journey, Sarah shares how she disconnected and reconnected with her friends, family and most importantly her dad!

 


 

When my mom told me my dad had died, I was 12 years old and lying on an air mattress in my best friend Katie's living room. Katie was on the other side of me, and she immediately held my hand a little too hard and started crying. I don't remember what I said, but I know I made Katie and my mom laugh.

My dad made everyone around him laugh, even when he was sick. He was so silly, talking in a fake French accent or using the lid on the kitchen trashcan as a catapult. After he died, our house felt deafeningly silent without his laughter.

 

When my dad was in and out of the hospital, I spent a lot of time at my friends’ houses, especially Katie’s. Even though I was worried about my dad, I still had a lot of fun with my friends. But for a year or two after he died, it was impossible to simultaneously grieve and play. I also didn’t know how to talk about my dad in a way that didn’t make me feel very sad, and not talking about it put a wall between me and everyone else.

 

Sometimes all I could really do was cry, and sometimes I was a little too silly. Sometimes I was mad at my friends for things like complaining about their dads leaving their shoes around the house. They said they were “sorry” a lot when they could see I was sad, because they didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t want to hear they were sorry- but I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to hear, either. I made new friends with other classmates who were going through a stressful event, which helped because we could connect over our similar feelings. But my “old” friends never went away. Even though we didn’t always know what to say to each other, they gave me the greatest gift; they waited for me to figure out how to grieve.

 

The same year my dad got really sick, my neighbors’ uncle did, too. They died within a year of each other. While we had always spent a lot of time together, having the shared experience of loss made us even closer. They became the people I first talked about grief with. We started a few traditions with my neighbors when my dad was sick. After he died, most “family” events consisted of my neighbors, my mom, and me.  Somewhere in between graduations, holiday dinners, and going to church together we became a family.

 

My mom brought me to Comfort Zone Camp two years after my dad died. For the first time since his death, I felt like I completely belonged. At camp I gained the ability to talk about my dad without feeling so sad. This skill allowed me to be present in my life again. I’m happy to talk about my dad now with good friends or my mom, and sharing stories about him allows me to feel closer to them. Comfort Zone is not just a part of my community; it is another family.

 

While I've spent a lot of time really missing my dad, I’ve always felt incredibly connected to him. I've always been like him, physically (we have the same eyes) and mentally (we share a passion for psychology and meditation). There are even unexpected connections.  I played ultimate frisbee and started running long distance in college only to find out from my grandmother that he did as well. When I miss my dad I try to increase my level of connectivity to him. I write him letters and talk to his tombstone from time to time, but I feel closest to him when I'm doing something we did together, like cooking. My dad took me snorkeling a lot and I always feel like he’s a little more “here” when I’m near the ocean. I feel my dad's absence so deeply, but his presence is such a big part of what makes me “me.”

 

I’m 24 now, and my dad has been dead for half my life. On the anniversary of my dad’s death this year (like every year) people from my patchwork family reached out. The friends who stuck by me even though I was so difficult when my dad died? They are still my closest friends, and every single one of them called or texted. My mom, neighbors-turned-family and the Comfort Zone community also made themselves available. Every single one of these people is part of my family, a family that is happy to honor my dad’s memory- even if they didn’t know him. More than that, they are a family who love me and a family that I have the privilege of laughing with. On this anniversary, a day that I will forever associate with so much sadness, I am reminded of the connections that have gotten me through grief- and how truly lucky I am.


 

Help make the connect for youth like Sarah!  Learn more about the Connection Challenge and how your gift today can be matched dollar for dollar!

 

An Open Letter from Comfort Zone Camp to Sheryl Sandberg:

Dear Sheryl,                                      

 

This past year, you have acknowledged your grief, expressed emotions, remembered your love, and shared your story. You have become a role model -- having shared your grief with others. As an organization that works on behalf of grieving children every day, we want to say thank you. Many of us have followed as you have written about your relationship with grief. By being open in public forums about your feelings, you have created permission for others to express their relationship with grief.

 

Your public posts on Facebook have offered a blueprint for others on how to talk about grief, and why it is critically important to acknowledge grief. The only way for us to organize our thoughts when we are grieving is to physically organize them. You have done this beautifully for the world.

 

• “Don’t be afraid to talk about it.” In fact, in working with children and grief, we’ve learned that awareness is the first step to moving forward, and to healing and growing in healthy ways.
• “Expressing your feelings is cathartic.” Feel free to feel. Children, especially, feel alone after a death, and often do not want to talk about feelings because they feel that will disrupt the family even more. Teaching children that it’s good to talk is really important.
• “Resiliency can be learned.” This is true. Resiliency often comes through connections. These connections can be with family, but can also be through community and peer interaction. Strong connections foster a sense of safety and security both physically and emotionally. 
• “Sharing is different for everyone.” Creativity is key. We are all creative in our own way. We share verbally, through art, and many other means of expression as we experience life.

 

Because life and death are so complex we can easily become discouraged about “how we are doing.” This is why it is so important to realize we are not alone. Hence the importance of living role models. Many role models are not aware they are being role models. They are responding to their experiences in an authentic way. We see them as role models because we want to emulate the strengths we see in them. Thanks, Sheryl, for being a role model for so many who are experiencing grief.

 

FROM THE HEART: Grief in the Everyday Stuff

 

Elisabeth Beaver, affectionately known as Sloane, was a camper at the very first camp held by Comfort Zone Camp, in Virginia. When Sloane moved to Massachusetts, she became a Big Buddy volunteer. She now lives in New York City and continues to be a comfort zone for others.

 

--------

 

It’s been twenty years since my Dad died. Sometimes, it feels so far away; I can't remember what it feels like to call someone “Dad.” Other times, it feels like yesterday, and I can hear his voice reminding me to “have fun and learn a lot.”

 

Grief doesn’t hit me in the monumental moments, like his death anniversary, his birthday, or even Christmas. It’s the little, everyday stuff – like seeing my friend’s iPhone light up with “Call from Dad” or passing a daughter on her dad’s shoulders – that sends me back to the sadness I felt so acutely twenty years ago.

 

It hits me when I least want it to; as I watched my best friend walk down the aisle with her dad, or when I crossed the finish line of a half marathon with my sister. These moments are emotionally complicated; I sense the joy and happiness that surround me, but also feel emptiness, longing, and even jealousy inside of me. And, of course, there is the guilt that comes with feeling sad when the people around you are experiencing the happiest moments of their lives.

 

When I went to Comfort Zone as a camper, I found a place where there is no guilt attached to grief. I found a place where feelings aren’t judged. I didn’t feel shame when I was sad when I thought I should be happy, or when I was happy when I thought I should be sad. It was a place where I never felt burdened with the idea that “everything happens for a reason.”

 

When I returned many years later as a Big Buddy in Massachusetts, I was reminded that experiencing grief and sadness, no matter how many years later, just means that you are healing. Grief is a process without a discrete ending.


Someone once said, “some things cannot be overcome – they must be carried.” That's always been meaningful to me – I’m not sure I will ever not miss my dad. But Comfort Zone taught me something that the author of that quote did not – these things may have to be carried, but they don’t have to be carried alone.

 

From The Heart: Dad's Best Girl

This year we are kicking off a new feature here called From the Heart. You’ll be hearing first-hand from campers parents, volunteers and Comfort Zone supporters with their stories about dealing with grief. Today we start with the story written by Talia Berk, a New Jersey volunteer who shares with us her feelings about losing her father.

 


 

Dad's Best Girl

 

I remember the first holiday season without my dad.

 

We were sitting around the table on the first night of Hanukkah, and although it had been six months, and although everyone was trying to avoid it, the four of us couldn't help gazing at the empty place at the table where my dad used to sit.

 

I was the oldest of three young children, and my mom would cry at the mention or thought of my dad's name, so I took on the role of being the "strong" one. Yet, deep inside my 12-year-old-and-in-denial-brain, I wanted some acknowledgement of my dad, and when I realized that wasn't going to happen as a family, I decided to do something myself.

 

Remembering a loved one is so important. It's healthy and normal. But it took me a long time to figure that out for myself.

 

My family, even past that holiday season, never did much to remember my dad. It seemed that it was a subject that everyone wanted to avoid because it was too painful to bring up. Everyone acted like nothing had happened. And that was not OK with me. 

 

I found ways, and am still finding ways, of remembering and honoring my dad around the holidays, in my own perspective. His birthday is in the beginning of December, and it's kind of like the start of doing things to remember and celebrate his spirit. I take the holidays as a time to write letters to my dad, and then burn them outside so the ashes go up to the sky. I like to wear the color green, because it was his favorite color. I listen to lots of music that reminds me of him - not just sad songs, but happy songs, too - because I like to remember happy times together. And I meditate - boy, do I meditate.

 

And this year, my New Year's Resolution is to pick up one of his guitars and learn how to play. Making music on his guitar was one of the greatest passions in his life.

 

The holidays don't get easier without my dad, but rather, I find more and more healthy ways to cope and connect with him even though he is not here. He always called me "his best girl" (I was his only daughter), and so just like his nickname for me, I try to be the best version of myself that I can be.

 

By being that best version of myself, I can allow myself to remember my dad, but in a healthy way, and it makes every day seem a little less difficult, and a little more joyous.

-- Talia Berk, SUNY Oswego '13, CUNY Hunter '16

 

 

 

Comfort Zone Camp's 2016 Theme: Connection

 

Connection is an attribute important to everyone, as connections help us to remain healthy and grounded. At Comfort Zone Camp, we see how vitally important connections are in the positive development of youth.

 

"Children know how to connect. When they realize a death in their life the concept of compassion is fully appreciated. They look to share empathy with their peers because they understand its importance when grieving. You know how to give from what is missing in your life," shared Pete Shrock, Vice President of Strategy, Design and Programs for Comfort 

 

Children with close ties to family, friends, school, and community are more likely to have a solid sense of security that produces strong values and prevents them from seeking destructive alternatives in times of stress. While family is the central force in any child's life, civic connection can and will increase a bereaved child’s sense of belonging to a wider world and feeling of being safe within it.  

 

This makes connection an important theme for Comfort Zone in 2016.  Throughout the year, and most importantly through our programs, we will focus on the concept of connection, why it’s important, and how to build it.   

 

According to the program This Emotional Life on PBS, connections with others have profound effects on our wellbeing and long-term happiness. One of their stories notes that "scientists have observed what they call 'hedonic adaption': our tendency to quickly adapt to our changing circumstances. This is why people who win the lottery, for instance, usually find themselves at the same level of happiness they had before they won. Close relationships, however, may be an exception. In contrast to material goods, we are more likely to continue to want our close relationships, even after we attain them, and to continue to derive positive emotions from them."

 

Having relationships that are authentic and built from values or attributes ensures that we are surrounded by individuals that we can model behavior from. We learn to do this as a child and continue to do it as healthy adults. Role models are and will always be vital to our personal growth and health. 

 

Success is not what creates deep and lasting connection. It is our ability to share joy, pain, fears, memories, and experiences.  If someone teaches us to share during a time of conflict, we can continue this throughout our life and build many more connections than ever imagined. 

 

How are you connected? How can you share and experience to build a deeper connection? 

 

Take part in the CONNECTION theme. Share your strategies for staying connected 2016. Share your strategies online and challenge others to connect!  We will share strategies and continue the discussion.

New Registration

To register, please create an account so you can save your application as you go. Your contact information will not be used for spam or shared outside of Comfort Zone.






New Camper Registration

New Volunteer Registration

Returning Members

Existing volunteer and guardians, please login to access your profile, apply for camps online and view photos from past camps.

Forgot Username? | Forgot Password?