Comfort Zone Camp, which offers free getaways for youth who have lost loved ones, has received a $3 million grant to expand beyond the Richmond area and triple the number of campers who can be served.
The three-year grant from the New York Life Foundation will allow the camp to expand to five locations and increase its annual capacity for campers from 800 to 2,400 by 2010.
“Grieving kids need a voice, need a place,” says the camp's founder and chief executive, Lynne Hughes, who started the operation in Richmond in 1999 and was herself an orphan at age 12.
“It's an unmet need in society,” Hughes says. Kids who have suffered a loss “grow up with stuff. Grief doesn't go anywhere. It's just going to come out sideways and backwards and they may not grow up as productive members of society.”
Comfort Zone, which started offering camps in Mechanicsville, offers weekend sessions for youth from across the country. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the organization started offering sessions in the New York area.
Many of those children faced special circumstances. After the towers fell, for example, examiners combed electronic records to find calls that were placed from parents attempting to reach their children, but didn't connect to the receiving end in time. Those children found out about the attempted call after the fact.
Initially, the 9/11 kids met in separate camp sessions, but in 2004 Hughes started mixing the groups.
There were “kids who maybe had a dad die from a heart attack three months ago and kids who had a dad die three years ago,” she says. The interactions allowed the 9/11 kids to realize “they had followed down the path of grief and that they had something to offer.”
The locations for the new Comfort Zone camps include Southern California, Boston and metropolitan New York.