A startup summer bereavement camp wants the families of children struggling with loss to know that they are not alone in their grieving process.
Founded in March of last year, Camp Good Mourning! is a free Long Island-based bereavement camp that is different than other counseling services for children. Kids ages 7-17 who lost a parent and/or sibling sometime in their life can meet with other kids who know exactly how they feel at an overnight camp on Shelter Island.
Paul Rubin, founder and executive director of the camp, is a mental health counselor and has been working with children at other camps coast-to-coast since 2002. The Huntington Station resident noticed that there were certain things that other Long Island camps were not offering to the kids who needed help and began the concept for a twice-a-year weekend sleep away camp that is different than the rest.
While other camps across the country tend to be day camps, Camp Good Mourning! is an overnight getaway that helps with bonding and community building processes. The camp fills in gaps in services by operating in the spring and fall seasons, while other camps are usually offered in the summer. They will additionally offer optional gatherings and meet-ups for the kids and their families throughout the year when the weekend camp is finished.
“We want them to stay connected to their new friends at camp because often times when they go home they’re isolated again and don’t have the support that they found at camp where everyone is just like them,” Rubin said.
Statistics show that 1 in every 7 kids experience the death of a parent or sibling before the age of 20. If a district has 3,500 students, roughly 500 of them may have or will experience that loss.
Hosted at Camp Quinipet on Shelter Island, children who are grieving can leave their worries behind as soon as they set foot on the ferry with their family by their side.
“It’s very metaphorical,” Rubin said, “you’re leaving behind the isolated lonely world and coming to a place where everybody has experienced a loss… everybody is like you.”
On Friday night, icebreaker games are played, a big dinner is served and the kids are partnered with their “big buddy.” That buddy will be with them every step of the way throughout the weekend, supporting them and guiding them throughout the four Pow Wows support groups where they can talk their personal grieving stories.
During these therapeutic Pow Wows, counselors and peers discuss positive and negative coping skills, how the kids can stay connected with their passed loved ones (through memory boxes or continuing traditions), sharing their grief stories from beginning to end, and identifying and exploring their feelings as they cope with the loss. “The kids have the opportunity to talk about anything or nothing – it’s their choice,” Rubin said. “We’re not there to fix anything, we’re just there to open up a grief journey and help them along the way.”
And although Camp Good Mourning! is just a startup, the organization is already doing well with sponsorships and fundraising. They have over 900 likes on their Facebook page and have dozens of events lined up.
Since the camp is free for those accepted, Rubin explained how important donations are–they operate solely on donations, sponsorships, grants and fundraising. On Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. they will be hosting Supermarket Bingo Bonanza at Levittown Hall in Hicksville featuring a silent auction filled with prizes for everyone. Tickets to the event are $20 in advance and $30 at the door.
But along with fundraisers, Rubin said that Camp Good Mourning! has partnered with different places for sponsorships and have received generous donations from community members and even celebrities who know how it feels to lose a parent at a young age.
The camp is available to kids on Long Island who lost a parent or sibling – recently or not –and Rubin said that although there are hard lines, there are also exceptions to the rule.
“There are no traditional families anymore,” he said, “if [an aunt, uncle or grandparent] lived in the home, then we’ll definitely consider it.” And although camp is specific to the kids on the island, “if there’s room and if there’s funding, we’d be happy to consider kids from outside the area… that’s why funding is so important.”
Next year, the camp will introduce a simultaneous adult camp on the same campus as the kids. Parents will be offered the opportunity to drop their children off at the location and then stay nearby at their own campsite to receive support, as well. In 2020, they also plan on expanding their services by offering two weekend dates in both the spring and fall.
Right now the camp is set to hold 50-65 kids, plus their big buddies and an extra two-dozen volunteers to help out. The camp is currently accepting applications for volunteers and campers. Those interested can apply online or inquire at [email protected]
“The biggest gift to give to a camper is just to be a good listener,” Rubin said.