How One Teen Raised Thousands of Dollars for Grieving Kids

My name is Max Freyman, and since 2015 I have spent my summers at Camp Baco, one of the “Campbassadors” to Experience Camps. For the past two summers, as part of our charitable fundraising efforts, I organized a camp-wide race in memory of my father, who was an avid runner his whole life, and who suffered a fatal cardiac arrhythmia in 2019 at the age of 43.  

Camp Baco in the Adirondacks holds a special place in my heart and those of my siblings, not just because it’s our summer home, but because it was also our father’s during his childhood. I thought it would be special to run the race in the same place that he ran 30 years ago. We call the race “The Big Chipper” after “Chip,” his childhood camp nickname.   

Prepping for The Big Chipper 

There was a lot to do in preparation:  map out the race, design shirts and race bibs, deliver speeches to campers, create a booth for the camp alumni fair, make a video for social media to invite parental participation from home, and finally, run the event on race day. The wonderfully supportive directors at Camp Baco gave me free reign to do it all.  

Picture of Max, founder of the race

Max loves the thrill of giving back while also spreading the magic of camp.

While navigating all these logistics was a bit overwhelming, the absolute biggest hurdle I faced in all of this was when I first had to introduce the idea to the camp. Baco is not a particularly large camp, and that’s what makes it great: everyone knows everyone. The problem was that not everyone knew the story of my dad and how he had passed a few years prior. Presenting the idea of the race to Baco first, and then to Che-Na-Wah (the sister camp for girls across the lake) was very nerve-racking. 

I did not know what it would feel like to open up and tell the story to a group that large. With the help of my bunkmates, I drafted a speech that I was confident enough to present to the camp. With my best friends standing behind me, I was able to share the story and the wonderful idea that followed.  

The sweet taste of success and community

In the days leading up to race day. I was unsure of how the day would go. Was it going to be sad? Was the camp going to be excited for the race? The results blew me away. With some of my dad’s favorite classic rock songs booming through the speakers, the campers showed up with smiles and ran the race with great enthusiasm, culminating in a high-energy, post-race party at the finish line.  

Later, we saw on social media how many parents proudly wore their race bibs and participated from home, including many of my dad’s bunkmates from his summers at Baco.  My brother, sister, and I felt so lifted up by our extended camp family, and the event turned out to be a huge success. The first “Big Chipper” raised $20,000, and this past summer, we matched that. 

The Big Chipper race

The race is on…for supporting grieving kids!

The magic and bonding of camp

I am honored to support the cause of Experience Camp in my father’s memory, given how much he and I shared an understanding about the power of camp.  The sense of community that camp provides is uniquely critical in the context of grief.  Indeed, in the wake of my family’s loss, I had the opportunity to serve as a junior counselor at a weekend bereavement camp, and saw firsthand the benefits of giving other children the opportunity to share their stories, grieve their losses, and heal their hearts. 

Beyond coming together in grief, there is the usual camp bond that forms in singing silly camp songs, engaging in group activities, and playing fun games. Camp, as anyone who has experienced it knows, is truly magical.  

For me, the Big Chipper race is a perfect microcosm of that magic. Everyone lacing up their sneakers, donning their tees, and lining up for the countdown together.  Everyone with a shared mission: spreading the magic of camp that we already knew so well with others who need it most. 

I know my father would be so proud of us, and his beloved Camp Baco for supporting Experience Camp’s mission.  This summer, my younger brother Henry is joining the organizational effort of running the race.  And even though it is only March, we are already looking forward to Big Chipper 2024.  

Max Freyman, age 17, is a high-school senior from Millburn, NJ. He loves playing football and basketball, watching college sports, and walking his dog Tucker on the nature trails in New Jersey.