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Camp Comfort Article

What a difference a weekend can make

Reprinted from Mountain Connection – July 2014

by Stephen Knapp

Camp ComfortA weekend at Camp Comfort certainly made a difference for Trevor, who spent two summer days there after losing his mom to illness.

“It was pretty tough at first,” said Jeff, a freckled, quiet boy. “But once you get through it, and you hear everybody else’s stories, it’s nice to know that other kids have gone through the same thing.”

Now entering its 24th season, Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice’s ground-breaking bereavement camp has made an immediate, positive, profound and permanent difference for more than a thousand bright young spirits shadowed by loss, and for hundreds of good-hearted grown-ups devoted to their welfare. About 50 kids participate in the award-winning program each June and July, at times exploring their grief and sharing memories of their lost loved ones, at others fishing, hiking, horse-back riding, and generally making the most of their grand weekend in Empire Junction.

“I like all the activities, and I really liked the zip-line,” said a copper-top named Joe, smiling softly. “You get to do a lot of stuff you don’t normally do. It’s fun.”

It’s supposed to be. Fun is healing.

“If this was just a grief camp where everybody sat around and cried, nobody would come, and it wouldn’t do the kids any good,” said Wendy Snow, a licensed social worker and one of the many Mount Evans bereavement professionals who’ve helped make Camp Comfort the much-studied template for similar programs across the country. “Fun is a great way to deal with grief, because it gets you out of your down-and-out mood. It’s a good lesson for the kids that it’s okay to have fun even if you’re sad. It’s okay to feel happy.”

And here’s a good lesson for adults – it’s impossible to make a positive difference in a child’s life without making one in your own. Just ask Golden resident Pat O’Connell, one of hundreds of volunteer “buddies” who’ve spent their own Camp Comfort weekend as friend, confidante and patient security blanket to a grieving child.

“I had a friend who passed away many years ago, and another friend said I should do Camp Comfort,” explained Pat, standing just out of range of his little buddy’s flailing fishing pole. “It’s a good perspective re-set. It really makes you re-focus on what’s important.”

Still shaken by the death of her husband in 2011, it took Evergreen resident Kimberly Gold a long time to work up the self-confidence to become a Camp Comfort buddy. She finally stepped up one sunny weekend last July, becoming vigilant guardian, surrogate mom, and tireless cheerleader to two seven-year-old boys—one who had lost his mother to cancer, and the other whose little brother was hit and killed by a car. It’s hard to say who benefited more.

“The counselors, the buddies, the fishermen and the other volunteers all had so much love for those kids, and the kids had so much love for each other,” she recalled. “It’s like there was a big bubble over the whole camp, and it was love.”

So powerful is Camp Comfort’s healing energy that it routinely makes a difference in the lives of people who never attend. Snow remembers a phone call she received from a camper’s mother.

“She told me her son hadn’t cried since his father had died, but when she picked him up from camp he started talking about his dad and crying as soon as he got in the car. They talked about him and cried the whole way home. She was just so glad and relieved. What happens here is so important, and so wonderful.”

The total cost to attend Camp Comfort, including all workshops, recreation, meals, snacks, and overnight accommodations, is $150. Scholarships are available based on financial need. For more information or to receive a brochure, visit the Camp Comfort website at www.CampComfort.org or call Mount Evans at 303-674-6400.