On 9/11 anniversary, Comfort Zone Camp host kids who lost parents to COVID – NJ.com

On 9/11 anniversary, Comfort Zone Camp host kids who lost parents to COVID – NJ.com

Derek Rosaly (left) and a volunteer pose during Comfort Zone Camp at YMCA Camp Mason in Hardwick on Sept. 9, 2022.Courtesy of Lynne Hughes
Katharine Pereira, of Nutley, was only 7 when her dad died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
It was a difficult and devastating loss that remains with her today. Still, each year, Pereira, 28, honors her dad for the amazing man he was – not how he died.
On Sunday, the 21st anniversary of 9/11, she’ll be at Comfort Zone Camp in Hardwick, helping kids who lost parents during COVID cope with grief.
“As a child, I understood what death was, but I couldn’t believe it could happen to me or my family,” Pereira said. “While I was grieving my dad, my family and I had to watch as the entire country grieved 9/11 as a whole. Finding Comfort Zone saved me in a time when I desperately needed it to.”
Comfort Zone Camp serves children ages 7 to 18 in the tri-state area who have lost loved ones in the hopes of improving mental health and showing kids that they are not alone in their grief. The free weekend-long gatherings occur on the grounds of YMCA Camp Mason, a 650-acre scenic plot of land in Warren County near the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation area. During their stay, children participate in therapeutic activities with the help of staff, including licensed therapists and other health professionals.
The camp is offered five times a year in New Jersey and hosts 40 to 70 campers per session; the last one for 2022 is in October. It is funded through private donations, fundraising events, grants, and corporate support and advertised through social media and schools, government officials, and community-based organizations.
CEO Lynne Hughes founded the nonprofit camp 24 years ago, in 1998, to give children who lost loved ones a resource she didn’t have after losing her parents. In addition to New Jersey, there are Comfort Zone Camps in five other states, including Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina and California.
“My parents died when I was young, and there were no resources for me,” said Hughes, a Virginia resident with ties to New Jersey. My family “went back to acting like nothing had happened. Going to summer camp as a kid helped me step out of that bubble of loss and go back to being a kid again.”
Hughes, whose camp has served over 20,000 grieving children since it began, said the excitement of seeing campers reminds her how important Comfort Zone is.
This weekend’s camp was devoted solely to children who lost loved ones to COVID.
On Friday and Saturday, the 40 campers were assigned a big buddy. Then participated in a healing circle, where they shared their stories and built a bonfire where participants wrote notes to their loved ones and then threw them in the fire as part of the healing process.
On Sunday, the kids participate in a memorial tribute to their lost loved ones.
“After losing my dad at the age of 9, my mom saw an ad for Comfort Zone Camp and decided to sign me up,” said Krista Collopy, 31, the camp’s program director from Haskell. “Growing up, I had never met someone who lost a parent, and I felt alone. That first camp weekend, I finally learned how healthy it was to share my story.”
For Derek Rosaly, 11, of Hazlet, the loss of his father from COVID in December 2020 makes the holidays rough.
“I was just lost in the beginning,” he said. “It wasn’t until my mom found Comfort Zone that I found some semblance of normal again.”
A common theme among campers, staffers and volunteers is that the camp feels like home.
“It may sound cliché, but Comfort Zone is home,” Pereira said. “This has become my second family. I would not have been able to cope with the death of my dad without them.”
To register for the October Comfort Zone Camp, go comfortzonecamp.org or call 804-377-3430.
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Deion Johnson may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DeionRJohhnson.
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