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The Power of Family Program: ConnerStrong

The Family Program model was created to build a bridge between the magic that happens in the camp model, and an awareness that we could be doing more for families once our campers went back into their homes and communities.  Children and teens living with loss need communities around them that support and grow the tools that are given at camp.  CZC is very excited by what we are seeing in our family program model.  We have had the honor of supporting more than 200 families in our family model so far this year.  One of our stand out family program moments has been to meet the Worosz family.  Staff and volunteers alike were struck by their raw courage in participating in the December 2016 family program.  They brought members of their family, and extended family for tools and support around the loss of their beloved Conner.    It was at the completion of this program that Conner’s father, Tom, made a passing comment to “sell some t-shirts or something” to mark the occasion.  Conner’s family stayed in touch with us post-program, and kept us in the loop about their new normal. His younger brother, Jack, came to a three-day program to continue support later in the year.  Tom reached out to let us know that he had formed a 501c3, The ConnerStrong Foundation in Conner’s memory, and was working on a plan to support our work with communities, and to raise awareness about suicide.  The result of this labor of love was an incredible inaugural golf tournament that was held on October 16, 2017, in Northern Virginia.  Our CEO and Director of Development were on hand to receive an incredible gift of $7,800 from the event to go towards programming and building grief-friendly communities.  The Worosz Family are an incredible testament to the ways that families can come together in their grief.

 

To hear more about Conner's story, and the work of the ConnerStrong Foundation, please visit www.connerstrongfoundation.org

Thank you to our generous 2017 Grief Relief 5K Sponsors!

Thank you to our generous 2017 Grief Relief 5K Sponsors!

You make it possible for kids and families experiencing grief to attend Comfort Zone Camp's programs to heal, grow, and lead more fulfilling lives.

 

 

 

 

Massachusetts 7th Annual Grief Relief 5K:

 

Many thanks to the Harris Family Foundation, Acelleron Maternal Health & Wellness, Colliers International, Prime Motor Group, Winchester Co-Operative Bank, Comcast Xfinity (and their awesome Touch A Truck), BOSE, British International School of Boston, Brown & Brown Insurance of Massachusetts, KBW Financial Staffing & Recruiting, Salem Five Charitable Foundation.

 

Also to Mix 105.1 Street Team, Stop & Shop (Winchester, MA), Whole Foods (Woburn, MA), U.S. Foods, Floral Demonstration by Elaine Haney, Reiki & Card Readings by Jenifer Keefe, Sports Massages by Jeff Spratt Muscular Therapies, and Trauma Informed Yoga by Sarah Hoffman Yoga! Plus, all of the Silent Auction donors and so much more - especially the fabulous volunteer who helped out!

 

 

New Jersey 8th Annual Grief Relief 5K:

 

Many thanks to Samsung, Hopes & Dreams Foundation for Children, New York Life Insurance Company, RC Andersen Construction & Consulting.

 

Also to Fresh 102.7 NY, KPMG, Stop & Shop (Wyckoff, NJ), Zumba Fitness's Natalia And Mercedes, the Bells of Remembrance, Touch a Truck, Nick Petrone, Hearts of Hope, and Silly Pencil. Plus, all of the InKind donors and so much more - especially the fabulous volunteers who helped out!

 

 

 

Virginia 2nd Annual Grief Relief 5K:

 

Many thanks to Altamirano Consulting, Patient First, Markel, Tom Love, CFP, CRPC, Richmond Road Runners Club, Innsbrook Foundation, Niagra Bottling, Punch, Network Building + Consulting, Towne Bank, Haley Auto Group, and Westhampton Family Psychologists..

 

Also special thanks to Craig Heah and Megan Wolfgang for once again co-chairing the event, the Richmond Seal Team, Fleet Feet Sports of Richmond, and all the fabulous volunteer that helped out!

"Honoring My Veteran" by Kara Logan

Honoring My Veteran

 

Written by Kara Logan, Comfort Zone Staff

 

Today is Veteran’s Day - the day that we celebrate those who have dedicated their lives to the protection and safety of our nation. These Americans have spent days, years, even decades in dangerous conditions performing grueling work, all to make sure that we have a future.

 

How fitting it is, that Veteran’s Day is the day that my own veteran - my father - died.

 

My father spent a year in the military in the 1970’s during the Vietnam War. He spent that year in Europe (mostly Germany) as a cook in the Army. He never talked much about his time in the service, but in hindsight, I can see how those experiences shaped the man and father he became. After returning home, my father married and created a family with my mother. He had no college education; he set his sights on providing for his family by using the skills that he learned in the Army, and learned growing up as a poor Black man in the segregated South. He worked as a truck driver for most of his life - first for different companies, and later he owned and operated his own trucking company.

 

My father was a complicated man. He had some great qualities, and some not so great. He was human.  He was hard, demanding, and expected nothing but the best from everyone around him. Sometimes, he wasn’t very easy to please. He wasn’t a great communicator, and he wasn’t great at expressing his emotions. But, my daddy loved just as hard as the man he portrayed himself to be. When he let his walls down, he was a kind and sensitive spirit. He was always using his gifts to help his family, friends, and neighbors. He served in his church and community: he drove the church van, served as Sunday school superintendent, provided free manual labor to neighbors and friends, provided finances to those in need, served as everyone’s resident “handyman,” served as a father figure and role model to countless children, and gave an abundance of advice and wisdom (both solicited and unsolicited). Daddy’s love wasn’t in his words; it was in his actions. It was in his very being.

 

My daddy taught me to be independent, dedicated, and strong. He taught me worth, and drilled into my head to never accept mistreatment of any kind. Daddy was the first person to help me understand what it meant to be a Black woman in this society. He never let me forget how fortunate I was to live in a hardworking two-parent household, receive a quality (integrated) education, and always know where my next meal was coming from. But, he also taught me that such blessings came with a responsibility to give to others. He taught me to be a humble and willing servant. Daddy is the reason that I am who I am.

 

Fortunately, the lessons didn’t stop when Daddy’s physical body did. He teaches me just as much in his death as he did in life. His death taught me the depth of grace, faith, understanding, compassion, and strength. His death helped me realize my purpose. I am a part of the Comfort Zone Camp family because of, and in honor of, my daddy. Although he physically left this world alone in the woods of his hometown, I carry him with me to all of the camps that I attend, and in all the interactions I share with grieving families. He is in my daily life and every breath.

 

As hard as Veteran’s Day is for me and my family, I find comfort in knowing that his death anniversary is during a season of significant days. He died exactly a week after the election of the first Black President of the United States—a milestone that I am forever grateful that he lived to see. Even more special is the fact that the day he died is celebrated as a national holiday. His country honors him for the sacrifice he made for U.S. citizens—just as I honor him for the sacrifice that he made for my mother, sister, and myself. My daddy was a lot of things—a veteran, proud Black man, entrepreneur, husband, son, provider, neighbor, leader, and father. So, on this Veteran’s Day, and every other day, I honor my father—in all of his intricacies and complexities. I encourage everyone who has ever loved a veteran, living or not, to honor and celebrate them not only for their service, but also for all of their other identities, roles, and gifts. Tonight, I will be whispering my gratitude for my daddy over the single candle that I light for him every year on November 11th. My hope is that everyone reading this takes today to do the same.

 

Rest in Peace, Daddy. Your princess misses you.

DECA Chapter Supports Comfort Zone

Every year the Corinth Holders High School DECA Chapter organizes and completes a community service campaign. The chapter is very well known for their community service campaign as it has placed in the Top 10 two years in a row at the International Career Development Conference. For the 2017-2018 school year the chapter would like to focus its campaign on the Comfort Zone Camp. The chapter has chosen to focus this campaign on this camp due to a chapter member’s personal experiences at this camp, and his desire to make a positive impact on children who have faced similar situations.  In November 2015, Corinth Holders High School DECA Chapter President Cameron Summers suddenly lost both of his parents.  In April 2016, Cameron and his younger brother, Beau, attended Camp Comfort Zone in Wake Forest, NC.  Cameron is joined by his DECA leadership teammates - Zachary Kas and Amber McFerren. 

 

This year’s DECA fundraising events will occur during the 2017-2018 school year.  The DECA team is working hard to organize and execute numerous events. These events will not only provide financial support to the Comfort Zone Camp, but also spread awareness about the camp and its goals.  Events planned are:

 

  •  Chip for Children Golf Tournament – Scheduled for Saturday, October 7th, at Riverwood Golf Course located at 400 Riverwood Drive, Clayton, NC.  Multiple local businesses/organizations have been invited to sponsor the tournament. There are different levels of sponsorships that the organizations can choose to capitalize on. These levels include, sponsoring certain holes, providing prizes for a potential reverse raffle, or sponsoring the tournament itself.

 

  •  Bracelet/Blanket Meetings - Throughout the 2016-2017 school year the chapter has held multiple meetings during SMART lunch open to anyone interested in creating friendship bracelets for the Comfort Zone Camp.

 

  •  Jump for Comfort  - Defy Gravity is a trampoline park located at 5604 Departure Drive, Raleigh, North Carolina. The chapter would like to incorporate this park with this year’s community service project. The chapter plans on partnering with Defy Gravity to hold a Jump for Comfort day.

 

  •  50/50 Raffle  - A unique opportunity Corinth Holders High School offers its clubs and organizations are the chance to hold raffles throughout its football games.

 

  •  DECA Movie Night  - Movie night for the chapter will be held a local movie theatre. 

 

  •  Bowling Tournament  - A bowling tournament at Rainbow Lanes Family Fun Center located at 850 NC Highway 42, Clayton, North Carolina is planned.  This was a very successful event last year for DECA.

 

Last year the DECA team raised over $4000 for Comfort Zone.  This year the goal is $10,000.  Cameron plans to return to camp as a volunteer later this year.

 

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!

 

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