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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.

 

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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.

Comfort Zone Programs Wrap Up For 2015 With Holiday Grief Program

This year, one in nine children will lose a parent or sibling before they turn 20. The holiday season - the time between Halloween and New Year’s Day - can often be a difficult time for children who have experienced a loss in their life.

 

This year, Comfort Zone offered a new one-day program that focused specifically on holiday grief. This pilot program took place in New Jersey and was designed for the entire family. The focus of the program was on safe and creative ways to honor loved ones during the holiday season through dynamic activities.

 

"Our program lineup will always include our traditional camps, but this pilot program focusing on holiday grief is another niche program, and we look forward to bringing more of these specialized programs to the communities we serve in the future," said Mary Beth McIntire, CEO of Comfort Zone Camp. "Whether you are a camper, volunteer or family member, we hope that you will visit our website and learn more about our programs."

 

Pete Shrock, Comfort Zone Camp’s vice president of programs, offers these ways for families to help support a grieving child during the holiday season:

 

#1 Sharing is important.
Encourage children to share what they are feeling. Let them know that you offer a safe place for them to talk about what they are thinking in their own voice. If your child does not want to talk, encourage writing in a private journal.

 

#2 Acknowledge the grief.
We know that children grieve differently than adults, and it’s important to let them know it’s OK to feel sad at times, especially as they see celebrations unfolding around them. Children are very intuitive, so be authentic in your conversations.

 

#3 Encourage creativity.
Children are innately creative, and tapping into this creativity is a great form of self- expression. Encourage creating decorations that include pictures of their loved one. Help them bake their favorite cake or side dish to be included in a holiday meal. Create a memory jar and write down favorite family memories and read them together on New Year’s Eve.

 

#4 Honor your family’s traditions and create new rituals.
Rituals are important to children. Children thrive in structure. Talk to your child about what traditions they consider important for the holiday season, and look at ways to incorporate new traditions into your family’s celebrations.

 

#5 Go easy on yourself.
Take care of yourself first, and then you can take care of others. Slow down this holiday season, and your child will follow your lead. Take inventory of what’s important and what’s not and plan accordingly.

 

We wish you a safe and happy holiday season! Be sure to check out a camper family featured recently on the Today Show below!

 

Sam's Comfort Zone

 

I can't tell you who I'd be if my dad hadn't died, but I can tell you I wouldn’t be who I am today without Comfort Zone. 

 

That's why I am writing today – it takes community support to give every grieving child the experience of realizing they are not alone. I want others to have the same tools and support to cope with their loss.

 

On Dec. 1, 2002 – as I stared blankly at the stark walls of the ICU waiting room – my world changed with the words "daddy died." At 11 years old, I had been the textbook example of a "daddy's girl," and the months after his death were incredibly difficult.

 

On one hand, I had people telling me to "move on." On the other, when I wasn't crying, they questioned whether I loved my dad. When I got the role in the fifth-grade play, peers insisted it was because the teacher felt sorry for me. Over time, it became easier to not interact. I can still remember staring ahead at the lunch table to avoid making eye contact with my classmates.

 

Meanwhile, at home, I fought back tears daily, as my two-year-old brother asked why daddy wasn't coming home from the hospital and my mom did her best to cope with three grieving children as she grieved herself. Not only did I feel isolated from my "normal" peers, but I also felt detached from my own family. I felt completely alone.

 

My life changed again on July 25, 2003, when I begrudgingly attended Comfort Zone Camp for the first time. Sharing my story, hearing others' stories, and simply talking in a supportive environment taught me how to positively cope with my grief.

 

As my Comfort Zone Camp count grew, I also learned to grieve the memories I had yet to make with my dad. Graduating elementary school. School plays, band concerts, piano recitals and swim meets. Father-daughter dances. My little brother starting school. Learning to drive. Report cards. College applications. Boyfriends. Graduating high school. A myriad of accomplishments. The list goes on — all without my dad. Yet one thing has remained constant: The friends I made through Comfort Zone have been there for me.

 

On Dec. 1, 2002, I lost one of my biggest advocates. Though he never got to watch me grow up, on July 25, 2003, I gained an entire community of people who have been cheering me on since. We know Comfort Zone makes a difference. It gave me a place to share my story. It empowered me to make a difference. It reminded me how to be goofy. It brought some of the most inspiring, selfless, compassionate people into my life. It helped me to celebrate my memories. And, most importantly, Comfort Zone has showed me and thousands of others that we're not alone.

 

-  Sam      

 

Children's Grief Awareness Day is coming Nov. 19

 

It's time to wear blue and raise awareness! Children's Grief Awareness Day will be commemorated nationally on November 19, 2015. This day is designed to help shed light on the needs of grieving children and of the benefits they obtain through the support of others.

 

We need you to help spread the word!

 

Comfort Zone will help bring awareness to the issue of children’s grief through a number of programs, inviting the community to become involved and helping shine a light on children’s grief and its importance as a community health issue. There are lots of ways to connect on this important day, check in on our social media outlets throughout the month of November to learn more!

 

At Comfort Zone, we will participate in Children’s Grief Awareness day through our "Campaign of Resilience": a social media campaign that aims to educate the community about children’s grief, engage the community in a conversation, and invite people to remember their loved-ones.

 

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to share your memories and help others learn about the importance of childhood grief. #ChildrensGriefAwareness #GrieveHealGrow #ComfortZoneCamp

Camp heads to Jamestown

Earlier this month, the Virginia camp team headed to a new camp location! The first-ever camp at the Jamestown Educational Center welcomed 65 campers and 86 volunteers.

 

Check out the awesome scenery below!  

 

 

 

Building #trust and #resiliency this weekend in Jamestown, VA #ComfortZoneCamp #grievehealgrow #campbubble #jamestown #virginiaczc

A photo posted by Comfort Zone Camp (@comfortzonecamp) on

 

Upcoming Virginia events: 
- July 11 - Volunteer Training
- Aug. 21-23 - Camp Weekend
- Oct. 13 and 15 - Volunteer Training

Join us at our Dinner Reception to Celebrate 5 Years in NC!

We’ve added a special feature to this year’s Charity Golf Classic presented by Legacy Private Client Services.  You no longer have to be a golfer to take part in the fun on Monday, Sept. 14! 

 

In honor of our 5th Anniversary holding camp in North Carolina, we are opening up the dinner reception to friends, families and those interested in learning more about Comfort Zone Camp. 

 

Tickets are $25 each and include buffet dinner, evening program featuring James Worthy and access to the live auction.  Come join the fun.  Buy your ticket today!

Taking Comfort Zone Out to the Ballgame

Reggie Jackson Comfort Zone Camp

 

The Hassenfratz family in New Jersey has been involved at Comfort Zone Camp since 2009 when their father died. In addition to being campers, the children have been volunteers and recruited others to join the community. At any opportunity, the family spreads the word about Comfort Zone. 

 

At the New York Yankees game on May 27, the Hassenfratz family received the Avis Spirit Award for their volunteerism. They were recognized at a special presentation at home plate prior to the game. During the game, baseball legend Reggie Jackson stopped by for a visit! Click here to check out more photos on Facebook. 

 

Highlights from May 2015 Camp in Massachusetts

 

The wake-up crew at camp in Massachusetts today! #ComfortZoneCamp #grievehealgrow #ImAComfortZone

A photo posted by Comfort Zone Camp (@comfortzonecamp) on

 

Earlier this month, another great camp weekend was held at Camp Burgess in Sandwich, Massachusetts. 

 

Shout-outs go to Winter Wyman for sponsoring 5 campers with a donation of $6,000 and handing out a meal from Uno's; and to Acelleron Medical Products and Youth Friends Association for bringing donations that totaled more than $8,000!

 

 

Summer events in Massachusetts: 
July 11, volunteer training
July 25, one-day program with Massachusetts General Hospital
Aug. 28, three-day camp
 

Grow the Community in North Carolina

The first North Carolina camp of 2015 had more than 65 volunteers! While October may seem a long time away, we're preparing now for another successful weekend this fall, and we want your help. 

 

Invite your friends, family and colleagues to become a Comfort Zone volunteer for an experience that will impact their lives forever. From Big Buddies, to nurses, to Healing Circle Leaders and Assistants, every role is important in assuring grieving children leave our program more resilient. 

 

The next volunteer training is September 12 in the Raleigh area. You can download this flyer to share with your friends. Email it, share on Facebook, post it in your office break room! 

 

 

Hear from 2 volunteers about why they're a member of the Comfort Zone community! #ImAComfortZone #comfortzonecamp #grievehealgrow

A video posted by Comfort Zone Camp (@comfortzonecamp) on

First Camp of 2015 Held in North Carolina

 

Oh, what a beautiful morning at #ComfortZoneCamp #NorthCarolina! #campbubble

A photo posted by Comfort Zone Camp (@comfortzonecamp) on

 

 

In early May, a camp program returned to North Carolina with 57 children and more than 65 volunteers! In years past, we usually say "see you next year North Carolina," BUT that's simply not true this year -- we will be back the weekend of October 2 for a second camp weekend in 2015. 

 

Please let your friends know about this second program in the region. Click here to register for camp; if you are interested in volunteering and are not yet a trained volunteer, click here to register for a volunteer training session in September. 

Welcome New Volunteers to the Community

Through the middle of May, Comfort Zone has welcomed nearly 450 new volunteers from across the country! If you're one of those volunteers, or if it's been a while since you've been to camp, be sure to update your profile and availability for camp later this year. Click on the "sign in" link at the top of our website to get started!

 

Now is also the perfect opportunity to invite your family, friends and colleagues to the volunteer community. Here's a look at training sessions this summer: 

> July 11: California, Virginia, Massachusetts  
> July 14 & 16: New York City 
> July 18: Illinois (Chicago) 
> Aug. 8: New Jersey

 

Create Your Own Fundraiser This Summer

After camp weekend, families often ask how they can give back to Comfort Zone. One fun, easy way to do this is to set a goal with your children and plan your own summer fundraiser to benefit Comfort Zone Camp.

 

Whether it’s a yard sale, bake sale or a lemonade stand, every penny raised helps bring other children to camp. To join our Summer Project, just set a goal, choose your method, and get planning! We’ll feature our fundraisers’ successes throughout the summer in our newsletters and on our national Facebook page.

 

To get started, click here to head over to FirstGiving.com, a site that makes it simple to create your own event. From there, simply follow the instructions to create your own event. 

 

Be sure to then share your event with family and friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more! 

 

Too Much Fun Run Raises $3,000

Too Much Fun Run

 

In March 2014, Bert Musick of Richmond died after a brief illness, leaving behind his wife, Katie, and two children. In his obituary, the family asked that in lieu of flowers that memorial donations be made to Comfort Zone Camp. 

 

The family also made an immediate connection to Comfort Zone this past summer as Bert and Katie's daughter, A.V., attended camp. 

 

As the first year anniversary of Bert's death approached, the family wanted to do something in his memory and continue to give back to Comfort Zone. With the help of friends in the community, they came up with the idea of a fun run, dubbing it the "Too Much Fun Run."

 

"The name of the event came from a joke that Bert used to tell the children when they were playing," Katie said. "He'd always say 'I want you to have too much fun!'" 

 

With perfect weather in place in March, about 200 children came out to the "Too Much Fun Run" at a local track, raising $3,000 for Comfort Zone. 

 

"Comfort Zone Camp made such an immediate and positive impact on my grieving daughter that we wanted to give back to the organization. The 'Too Much Fun Run' was a perfect way to honor Bert and all of the very special people at CZC," Katie said.

 

Check out highlights from the event below! 

 

 

Too Much Fun Run

 

 

 

I'm a Comfort Zone because ...

Thanks to those who have shared their #ImAComfortZone stories! Here's a sampling of how people are using this tag on social media: 

 

 

 

Shout-out why you love Comfort Zone Camp on social media! Visit www.comfortzonecamp.org/ImAComfortZone for more information.

"Give back to your community for it to get better"

When you go to a Virginia camp, you’re likely to find floater extraordinaire Dave Bruster. Get to know him in our quick Q&A!                                                     

How did you first hear about Comfort Zone Camp?    
When our daughter passed away she had an 8-year-old daughter who was living with us. We heard of Comfort Zone from one of the guidance counselors at her elementary school.  

 

What’s your favorite part about a camp weekend?  
I would have to say the Friday night Ice Breakers.  You watch the youth go from being timid and shy to letting their hair down and being themselves. A close second would have to be Sunday Memorial Service where you see the changes the weekend has made.

 

Why should someone sign up to be a volunteer at Comfort Zone?  
My feeling has always been you have to give back to your community for it to get better. What better could that be than to help a young person who has had such a terrible thing happen in their life learn there are others in the same boat that they are in and that it will get better.

 

They are going to have to work, too, for it to get better, but with the coping skills learned at Comfort Zone it will happen. What better way is there to spend a weekend than helping make this happen?

Camper Continues to Give Back in a Variety of Roles

Rachel Walters first came to Comfort Zone in New Jersey as a camper. As soon as she was old enough, she became a volunteer. Check out our Q&A with Rachel below!

 

How long have you been a volunteer for Comfort Zone, and what roles have you held?

I have been a volunteer for 7 years. I have been a Big Buddy, Healing Circle Assistant, Junior Counselor and a Floater. I was also a part of the Volunteer Council for two years. 

 

 

What first brought you to Comfort Zone Camp?

I originally started going to Comfort Zone Camp about 8 years ago as a camper after I lost my dad. I started volunteering as soon as I was old enough because I wanted to be able to give back and help other campers in the same way that Comfort Zone has helped me.

 

What’s your favorite part about camp weekend?

My favorite part of a camp weekend is the people you meet and being a part of the Comfort Zone Camp family. I truly believe that Comfort Zone is filled with some of the greatest people in the world. I love the connection that everyone makes with each other and being able to see old friends as well as make new ones. I also love the sense of family and community that everyone builds within a weekend. It is really amazing being able to witness the growth of kids within a weekend and throughout the years.

 

Why should others get involved at Comfort Zone?

I think that anyone who has ever thought of getting involved with Comfort Zone should definitely give it a try. I know they will not regret it. They will become part of a community like no other and witness things that are truly magical. They will get a chance to just be silly and have fun. They will be able to be a friend for a kid who really needs it and help in giving them the opportunity to be a kid again. 

 

A History that Continues to Unfold

Meet Chris Greim, a 6-year volunteer for Comfort Zone and one of the founders of the popular Polar Plunge fundraiser in Massachusetts.  The Polar Plunge has raised tens of thousands of dollars for Comfort Zone in the past 6 years, raising both funds to help keep programs free to families and awareness of camp in the region.

 

How long have you been a part of Comfort Zone? And what roles you’ve held?   
I have been part of Comfort Zone since 2009, and have been a Big Buddy, floater, and served in the Nurse/Paramedic Role, as well as helping out with several trainings (which I love doing!)

 

What first brought you to Comfort Zone Camp?
My introduction was through an e-mail someone "tossed out on the table." I contacted (Massachusetts’ Regional Development Officer) Sue Oppici and the rest is a wonderful history that continues to unfold.

 

What keeps you coming back?
The children, their resiliency, their compassion for each other, the selflessness of the other volunteers, the fact that with each camp experience I learn and grow as an adult in my own grief journey, and most importantly the hugs! There's no way to explain Comfort Zone Camp – you have to experience it. When I talk about Comfort Zone to others I try and convey how simply phenomenal these kids are and how much I've learned from them and continue to learn.

 

Everyone has the same reaction when they hear of a death, whether it's someone they know or not. When they hear that children were left behind, the reaction is even worse often times followed by "I wish there was something I could do." Well, now there is and I wish there was a way to reach more people. I know an awful lot of people who have said I wish I knew about Comfort Zone when my loved one died. Sadly death brings us all together and it will never end, but I am honored and proud to be a very tiny part of the bigger picture in someone’s grief journey.

 

 

Why should others get involved with Comfort Zone and hold their own fundraiser?
As far as fundraising with Comfort Zone, it doesn't get much easier. People can simply make a donation, or have a party, or anything else that you think people would enjoy. People don't need to give thousands of dollars – every penny helps.

 

My own kids and their friends have colored and sold rocks on the beach and donated what they take in, unsolicited by me or anyone else. When people hear that the donations will help a child, it tugs at their heart strings, specifically with regards to the polar plunge. When Tania called me after our first camp she said, “Let’s do a fundraiser." Without hesitation, I said, “Sure. What do you have in mind?”

 

She suggested a polar plunge. I had been doing a New Year’s Day swim with the fire department for years and told her that would be a lot of fun. We added the element of the after-swim gathering as a way for people to come together and hang out and quite honestly spend more money in the form of raffles and auctions.

 

I had no idea at the time that 5 years later we would still be doing this, nor did I expect to have the results we did. (This year’s event raised nearly $9,000.) People showed up, jumped in the Cape Cod Bay in February and the rest is history. It's always evolving, and changing, and I hope to continue for many years to come.

 

My dream would be that at one of our plunges (maybe the 10th) that we would have a representative from each Comfort Zone office join us. We just have to get through four more and the 10th anniversary will be epic.

 

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