Nonprofit “Experience Camps” Names New Hampshire’s Mark MacDonald and South Florida’s Nicole Van Valen to its Board of Directors; Appoints New York City’s Josh Landay as Chief Operating Officer
Board Seeks to Expand Camp and Year-Round Programming that Supports Thousands of Grieving Children with Transformative Experiences
WESTPORT, CT, May 25, 2021 – New Hampshire’s Mark MacDonald and South Florida’s Nicole Van Valen were named to the Board of Directors of Experience Camps, a national, no-cost program for grieving children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. New York City’s Josh Landay was recently introduced to the Board as Chief Operating Officer. The organization’s one-week, overnight summer camps and year-round programs help to empower kids with invaluable coping skills and a community that enables them to move forward with their lives.
As Board members, MacDonald and Van Valen will leverage their unique backgrounds across business strategy, real estate, and health care to support the organization’s programming, operations, and strategy with the goal to further the mission and transform the lives of grieving children. Landay brings to his role a passion for youth empowerment and experience in nonprofit leadership, primarily in education and the arts.
In the United States, more than 5.6 million children will experience the death of a parent or sibling by the time they reach 18 – and demand for Experience Camps programs has increased 500% over the last six years. The COVID-19 pandemic means hundreds of thousands more kids are now impacted by grief. Grieving children are at higher risk than their non-grieving peers for depression, anxiety, truancy, isolation, behavior problems, lowered academic achievement, drug and/or alcohol abuse, incarceration and suicide.
Experience Camps provides a safe environment where kids can explore their grief and ease the loneliness they typically feel. They are connected to other grieving children who “get it” about grief like they do while normalizing the entire grief process and giving them hope for the future. This summer, 1000 campers from more than 40 states will attend Experience Camps programs in-person across five locations.
“We know firsthand the kinds of challenges that grieving children go through. For that reason, everything we do at Experience Camps is ‘FTK’: for the kids,” said Todd Arky, Chair of the Board. “To provide experiences that truly empower these young people and give them necessary coping skills, we rely on a team – volunteers, staff, and Board included – that has a true passion for summer camp and the life-altering experience it can provide. Mark, Nicole, and Josh all enthusiastically demonstrate this passion, and their unique skillsets will be invaluable to expanding our impact, through camp and new initiatives we’ll soon launch. We couldn’t be more excited to welcome them to the Experience Camps family.”
Mark currently serves as the Head of People at Luxury Presence, a real-estate marketing platform based in Santa Monica, CA. In this role, he leverages his start-up background and empathetic leadership approach to help teams identify and solve business problems, and design and implement growth strategies across all facets of the business.
With a passion for growing organizations from the ground up, Mark has spent the majority of his career building sustainable teams and cultures in the start-up space. Starting as the first employee at Thuzio, Mark has risen to key leadership roles, including Vice President, interim-CEO, and Head of People, all for VC-backed companies. The five start-up organizations he’s played a part in building are still thriving, and he attributes that to the talented people with whom he has been fortunate to work.
Mark first got to know Experience Camps as a camp volunteer in 2018. Having previously served as an AmeriCorps VISTA for a sports-based youth development organization, youth programming has always been one of Mark’s key interests.
“I am the only child of a single parent. My mother died when I was 10 days old. Without siblings and my mother physically present, I always felt different than my friends. On my mother’s gravestone, it says, “She Cared,” and for a while this felt like the most tangible thing I knew about her. For varying reasons, people didn’t talk about her around me. Experience Camps is, far and away, the organization that most resonates with my background. I understand, to a certain degree, what these kids are going through, the obstacles that come with grieving at a young age, and why it’s so important to help normalize their grief and give them tools to cope.”
A former professional basketball player, Mark cites commitment, integrity, and hard work as three key values that have defined his success in work and in life. Prior to joining the Experience Camps board, Mark dedicated himself to fundraising for organizations fighting brain tumors.
Mark graduated from Brown University and lives in New Hampshire with his wife, Beth, his daughter, Maddie, and his dog, a chocolate lab who goes by Leroy Brown.
Nicole Van Valen
As the Strategic Engagement Senior Business Leader at Aetna (a CVS Health Company), Nicole Van Valen helps develop and oversee the strategic roadmap for innovation of market and product planning needs. With a unique skillset in business strategy, mental healthcare, and learning and development, Nicole generates creative ideas and sees them through from concept to implementation. A collaborative leader, Nicole spearheads new Resources for Living company-wide, community-based initiatives promoting engagement in mental wellbeing. In doing so, she further strengthened CVS Health’s 2030 Corporate Social Responsibility strategy for transforming healthcare.
Nicole is passionate about improving the lives of children. In her first graduate school internship, she supported grieving children through art therapy. Now, she feels she is in the business position to continue helping youth in need of additional support. Nicole attributes her own success to the power of mentorship:
“When I look back on my career, I have been most impacted by the relationships I have built both personally and professionally. A majority of my roles have been through recommendations from friends, family, or colleagues. My first job was working in my father’s medical private practice office during the summers while in high school. I was recommended for my first mental health position out of graduate school from a colleague while interning. A family member recommended me for my first mental health training and development position. The introductory role at Aetna, a CVS Health Company, was through a colleague referral. Each promotion during my tenure at Aetna, a CVS Company has been through mentors and/or sponsors.”
Nicole is a former Executive Board Member and Foundation Chair for Jack and Jill of America, Inc., having served previously as Southeastern Regional Program Committee Member, Chapter Legislative Committee Member, Chapter Legislative Committee Member, and Grade Group Chair. She also volunteers with Ekukhanyeni Relief Project in South Africa, assisting children impacted by HIV and AIDS.
A graduate of the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University, Nicole lives in sunny South Florida and is originally from the Bahamas. She is a wife and mother of three, who enjoys dancing, gardening, and spending time with family.
As Chief Operating Officer, Josh’s creative background helps him to lead teams in crafting defining moments for others, and his business skillset allows him to effectively scale the impact of those moments. Josh has built a career in social impact and the arts, both onstage and off. Most recently, he served as Chief Operating Officer at Building for the Arts, a cultural organization that serves 140,000 students, 125,000 audience members, and 100 performing arts companies each year. Prior to joining BFA, Josh served as Director of the Eye to Eye Diplomats, building a program that brought two national tours and 270 public presentations about learning differences to more than 45,000 students, educators, and parents nationwide – including events at the U.S. Department of Education, the Kennedy Center, the Teach for America 25th Anniversary Summit, and numerous conferences, universities, and schools across the country.
A former Broadway actor, Josh also served as a Teaching Artist and researcher for the New Victory Theater, developing curricula and leading performing arts workshops for public school students throughout New York City. Additionally, he worked to implement the SPARK (Schools with Performing Arts Reach Kids) research study in collaboration with WolfBrown, measuring the intrinsic impact of performing arts on children.
“The experiences that have proven most fulfilling to me have been those that have allowed me to bring positive transformational change into the lives of young people. When I learned about Experience Camps, I discovered an organization whose mission epitomizes that impact, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. After my wife, Ashley, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer years ago, we unknowingly joined a community of grief – and we both recognize, every single day, just how fortunate we are to serve others through our work.”
Josh holds an MBA from Columbia Business School, an MFA from the National Theatre Conservatory at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and a BA from Brown University. As a marathon runner, Josh is dedicated to raising funds for cancer research. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Ashley; their dog, Hershey; and their cat, Theo.
About Experience Camps
Experience Camps is a national nonprofit that gives grieving children experiences that change their lives forever by working to foster a more grief-smart culture and raise awareness of childhood grief as an issue that deserves attention. Experience Camps provides no-fee camps and other innovative programs for kids who have lost a parent, sibling or primary caregiver, as well as resources and advocacy to benefit many more. Since 2009, the organization has empowered thousands of children with the confidence, skills and support to move forward with their lives. Experience Camps’ five-year goal is to double the number of kids attending camp and expand our reach and resources to millions more through innovative programs and childhood grief advocacy and education so that every grieving child lives a life rich with possibility.
Media Contact: Michelle Cove, (617) 319-4434
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