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The Issue

1 in 5 children in the U.S. will experience the death of someone close before they turn 18.

The first years of every child’s life should be filled with opportunities to explore, to wonder, to look ahead, to feel connected. But when a child experiences the loss of someone important in their lives, these opportunities often get replaced with guilt, anxiety, regret, and, maybe worst of all, isolation. In these cases, it’s not just grief these children bear, but the feeling that they will never get back their capacity for happiness.

When a grieving child finds their community of support, something remarkable happens. They realize they are not alone. They find profound strength. They learn to heal. They begin to reconnect. In the midst of loss, they rediscover childhood.

Many grieving children never find the community of support they need to recover and thrive.

Childhood loss can have a profound lifelong impact, determined by whether their foundation is built on hopelessness and despair or the support needed to thrive and succeed. Research shows that children who experience unresolved grief are far more likely to face anxiety and depression and engage in risky behaviors that can undermine their futures.

With the right support, challenges can be overcome with a positive sense of self and a healthy concept of death and loss.

Through our programs and our leadership in the national conversation on childhood grief, Experience Camps has the ability to make significant differences for our kids and our society in how we process and understand grief.

Our clinically-informed model promotes peer support and healthy expressions of grief. And then there are s’mores.

Each camp is overseen by a Program Director and Clinical Director with a master’s degree in mental health who facilitates activities designed to build coping skills, promote personal connections, and foster healthy expressions of grief.

Our 45+ licensed clinicians ensure that we have a grief specialist on hand for every bunk. We also engage more than 400 carefully vetted and well-trained volunteers to deliver a camper-to-counselor ratio of 3:1.

Over the past decade, we have successfully designed programs grounded in modern grief theories, such as the Dual Process Model and Continuing Bonds. These models show that kids grieve by fluctuating between confronting and then avoiding loss. At camp, we see this fluctuation multiple times a day as kids transition from athletic competitions to grief sharing circles to dance parties. We give them permission to move through their natural childhood emotional rhythms and lean into happiness with music, laughter, friendship, and a perfectly toasted marshmallow.

Our model starts with play — the common language of childhood and a cornerstone of positive social emotional development.

We give campers permission to be kids again: to sing at the top of their lungs, pour themselves into a game, and explore their inner selves and outer world with other kids who “get it.” Which is why 85% of our campers return year after year for a continuous progression of support. A child’s grief changes at each developmental stage, and the coping skills they need can change, too.

Through this opportunity to return each year—as well as programs that see them through their young adult years—we are able to provide our kids a safe, familiar environment to process grief milestones and moments, whether it’s a missed father-daughter dance or a high school graduation. By developing a healthy approach to grief, Experience Camps allows kids to envision a life full of possibility.

“This is not just a fun week of camp—it’s a transformative experience. Experience Camps moves people from the risks associated with acute grief to integrated grief, setting the stage for them to thrive over the long term. This is powerful.”

— Dan Wolfson, PHD, Psychology