2021 Impact Report: Back from Camp!

A letter from the CEO

Dear Friend,

This summer at camp wasn’t the easiest. 

If I’m being honest, it was downright hard. Along with the usual bumps that occur when kids and adults cohabitate outside their comfort zones (like rain, mud, heat, bug bites, homesickness, etc.), this summer included mandatory PCR testing for over 1,300 people, arrival day rapid antigen tests, co-horting, masking, Hurricane Henri, broken down busses, nation-wide food distribution and staffing shortages, and a complex range of emotional needs. 

But we did it. We got our kids back to camp and did what we do best: we served up 10-in-a-row of the #bestweekever to kids that needed camp more than ever before. And it was spectacular.

Our incredible volunteers showed up – mentally and physically – and created a space where moments of unbelievable transformation occurred. The camaraderie, connection, and compassion that lives in every fiber of our culture not only stayed intact but somehow grew larger than ever. The joy of childhood returned in full force.

Thank you for being part of a community that would do just about anything for the kids we serve. Thank you for supporting us, for cheering us on, and for sparking joy. We’re already counting down the days until we can do it all again.

Warm regards,

Sara Deren

Founder & Chief Experience Officer

This summer by the numbers

  • 10 camp programs ran as scheduled across 5 different locations across the country.
  • 700 kids came to camp, made new friends, opened up, danced a lot, and slept a little.
  • 421 staff and volunteers brought their A-game, showed compassion, played a lot, and slept a little.
  • 62 licensed clinicians facilitated expressive bereavement activities and provided emotional and behavioral support.
  • 45 kiddos who couldn’t attend in-person this year for one reason or another, got to attend our virtual @Home program.

Our campers were more than ready to jump back into the #bestweekever!

The COVID challenge

The Delta variant threw us for a loop in the months leading up to camp, but with our rigorous testing and cohorting strategy, we managed to keep COVID from making its way into camp. We relied on the advice of public health experts and advisors, including Dr. Laura Blaisdell, who is including our data in a study requested by the CDC which will inform school recommendations based on interventions and outcomes from summer camps.

To keep our community safe:

  • We conducted 1,331 pre-camp PCR tests, which identified 13 positive cases in campers and staff members before coming to camp.
  • We conducted 181 rapid antigen tests on arrival day for unvaccinated campers and staff, which identified another 4 positive cases on arrival day, before campers were integrated into their bunk cohorts.
  • Campers and staff were cohorted into bunk groups throughout the week to minimize the possibility of widespread virus transmission.
  • Masks were worn anytime cohorts were within six feet of each other, such as in the dining hall or at campfires.
  • We operated busses at half capacity, shifted to outdoor dining, increased ventilation wherever possible, and adapted programming to avoid close contacts.

Even with the masks on, you can still see the big smiles if you look close!

Magic Moments

Each person that attends a week of camp can tell you “that moment” that stands out for them the most. It might be a big moment like the closing campfire or a small one like getting a homesick camper to smile for the first time. It is the sum of those moments that make up “the magic” of camp.

The following was shared by Todd Arky, long-time volunteer and current Chairperson of the Board of Directors, who was the LIT Unit Leader in Georgia this summer.

It is a tradition at Experience Camps that the LITs [Leaders in Training] choose a special project for the week. This group decided to build a bench to leave at camp. The bench would symbolize the support that the campers provide for one another. 

At the LIT’s final sharing circle, one of the new campers, whose mother had died, expressed that he felt so supported by all of the veteran LITs. One of the veteran LITs then said, “It’s like we carry this burden together.” Later that day, while a group of LITs were painting the bench, I asked if they thought that we should include that quote on the bench. Everyone agreed that it was perfect, so we did.

At the final campfire on the last night of camp, all of the LITs presented their LIT Project. They explained why they decided to build a bench, why they chose the paint colors that they chose, and what the quote means to them. 

As the campfire continued, each bunk was called up and the campers were given an opportunity to share their stories in front of the entire boys camp. Nearly all of the campers opted to share their stories. And all of our campers were given small electric candles to place on the stage in honor of the person (or people) in their family that had died. 

The first group spontaneously decided to place the candles on the bench, and each group of campers after them did the same. This caused the bench to light up, with the special quote standing out the most. It felt so meant to be. That is a microcosm for how I feel about Experience Camps: while I never would have chosen to have my father die when I was a 12, that horrible experience has led me to a place where I am meant to be. I am meant to be a part of this incredible organization that supports these bereaved kids in ways that truly transform their lives, that gives childhood a chance to carry on after unimaginable loss. 


#2: The LIT (Leaders in Training) boys in Georgia showcase their built-by-hand bench that supports others.


<<For more magical moments, check out our Top 10 highlights of the summer.>>

A word from our caregivers

I thank you so very much!! My eyes are filled with tears knowing that my children are being taken care of emotionally and physically.  Knowing that there are organizations like this as resources for some of us parents who may not  know exactly how to help our children as they grieve while we grieve as well.  Thank you all!! – Diana 

Thank you so much for all you have done. Miles cried when I picked him up from camp. When I asked him why, it was simply, “I don’t want to leave.” My heart simultaneously broke and filled with joy. Finally he found peers to relate to. Finally there was relief from navigating the loneliness of feeling like the only kid in the world who has felt pain like he has. – Maria

Thank you for your compassion, love and dedication to so many young children who are grieving the loss of a loved one. You have definitely transformed the life of my daughter, and for that I am forever grateful! – Juny

Counting down the moments until next summer

We’ll just say 10 months for now. The counting of actual seconds will come later.


Sure we can be silly any time but there’s nothing better than being silly together at camp!