Grief is one of the most complex emotions to process. And almost all of us, no matter our age, will be exposed to it.
At 15, Taylor Smith’s life was dramatically changed when his mother died of breast cancer. Before this tragedy, Taylor was known as an easygoing and friendly boy, but after the death of his mom, he pulled away from those around him. Three months later, Taylor’s father sent him to Comfort Zone Camp in Goochland. Taylor didn’t want to go; he fought the whole experience. But within the first few hours of camp, Taylor will tell you, he felt like part of the family.
After the weekend camp, Taylor’s dad and sister saw a transformed person. The Comfort Zone program taught Taylor to deal with his grief productively by giving him coping tools to help not only himself, but others also. “It was a great weekend for having fun, being listened to, and helping others by listening to them,” Taylor said.
Taylor attended camp every year after that until he turned 18. That’s when he Transitioned to big buddy status at Comfort to experience. Zone Camp. Since then, he has been a big buddy over twenty times, helped with Hello Grief (Comfort Zone’s online community at hellogrief.org), and currently serves on the volunteer council. As a volunteer he has seen a change in kids struggling with grief issues as they take part in Comfort Zone Camp. “Sometimes you don’t realize how big of an impact it makes until the end [of the camp],” he said.
Comfort Zone effectively incorporates a balance of therapeutic components and traditional camp fun, making it possible for children dealing with grief to open themselves up in a safe environment and feel comfortable being a kid.
The organization was founded in 1998 to provide a caring community and safe haven where grieving children are heard, understood, and taught healthy ways to process their grief. Comfort Zone has grown to serve more than 8,000 children, whom, like Taylor, have experienced a significant Loss. The year-round camps take place in Virginia, California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Elizabeth Sullivan, program manager at Comfort Zone, says as the need for services expands, the need for volunteers grows as well. “For a camp of 65 children, it can take up to 90 volunteers to ensure a successful weekend.”
Comfort Zone holds about 18 traditional camps per year for kids ages 7 to 17; four camps for ages 18 to 25; and six partnership camps for special groups, like the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. It costs Comfort Zone five hundred dollars to send one child to camp but thanks to donations, camp is always offered free of charge for any family in need.
Taylor says attending Comfort Zone truly made a difference in his approach to grief management, giving him the support he needed. “When going through the grieving process you get tired of hearing people tell you how sorry they are when they don’t understand what you’re going through, but at Comfort Zone I felt loved and understood,” says Taylor.
That’s a feeling that all children who have dealt with the death of a loved one deserve to experience.