“Family. Family. Oh BluEx can’t you see. We’re all here together, family.” That’s the song that’s been stuck in my head since I left Experience Camps in Georgia (aka BluEx) about 2 weeks ago. It’s a rendition of “Let It Be” that the BluEx campers and volunteers made up to perform on the last night of camp. I’ve heard countless songs made up at camp, but this one really hit home.
The dictionary offers up eight different definitions of the word, but none come even close to describing what I’ve seen built at Experience Camps.
I’ve now been to several of our Experience Camps programs, and each one starts off the same way. Busloads of grieving kids arrive at camp feeling uncertain, maybe alone and isolated, and some of them not wanting to be there at all. The bus doors open, and boom, the sound of cheering volunteers pours in. One by one, the kids step out, unsure of what the next six days will hold, but just like that, the transformation from strangers to family begins.
From the opening sharing circle to closing campfire, and everything in between, our campers tap into the deepest parts of themselves — parts that have been hurt the most in their short lives. It happens in the grief activities, but also on a walk to the pool, during a game of kickball, or over a meal. It’s the omnipresent understanding that no matter who you’re next to, you are not alone, and you are free to talk about the things, and the people, that the world so often tells you not to bring up. Our campers not only share their own stories, but showcase compassion, understanding, and empathy towards their cabin mates and new friends. It’s something quite remarkable to witness.
When you let other people into the parts of you that hurt the most, the bonds that form can last a lifetime. As one of our campers put it at our camp in California, “I learned sisterhood doesn’t take years to form, it can happen in just one week.”
We know that the pain will always exist inside of our campers (and often, our volunteers and clinicians), but if you can find a group — a family — of people that can help carry the hurt with you, you can maybe, quite possibly, move through this world a little lighter.
That, to me, is the Experience Camps magic.
Jesse Moss is the Senior Marketing Manager at Experience Camps, a nonprofit that champions the nation’s 6 million grieving children and works to create a more “grief smart” culture. Drawing on her experience as a Digital Strategist in the Obama Administration, she also oversees the nonprofit’s fast-growing TikTok channel — reaching millions with humor, empathy, and joy as well as grief.