Comfort Zone Camp is a nonprofit bereavement camp that transforms the lives of children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling, or primary caregiver. The free camps include confidence-building programs and age-based support groups that break the emotional isolation grief often brings. Comfort Zone Camps are offered to children 7-17 and are held year-round across the Country.

My Comfort Zone Camp experience transcends words. Its transformative powers can only be understated. I fully believe when people seek out volunteering, they are seeking what Comfort Zone delivers. And its delivery is more powerful than I could have ever suspected.

For three days I left my old life, I put aside my problems and dedicated all my energy to helping out a child in need. It was amazingly freeing and rewarding in ways that have forever changed me.

To begin, I had to attend a CZC orientation which is like an adrenaline shot of camp life plunged directly into your heart. You’re instantly switched on, you get a quick taste of things to come, and are left wanting more. I came to realize that taste was just a fraction of the energy and only hinted at the impact that the full camp experience would deliver. The beauty of volunteering with CZC is they need you for exactly who you already are. They need to match you and your interests with a child of seven to seventeen with similar interests. There are also plenty of other volunteering roles, from photographer to therapist, where you are helping out, yet are not directly matched with a child. So give the video below a gander and then check out this page for the orientation dates and locations.

After I filled out the questionnaire listing all my interests and signed up for a camp date, I waited eagerly to see if I would be matched up. Before the weekend of camp, I received the good news: an email with info on who my Little Buddy was to be as well as the specific loss they had undergone. Next, I gave a brief call to my “Little” to get to know them a bit before I meet them at camp, this serves to make the actual meeting a little less awkward.

Then, on a Friday afternoon, I drove up into the beautiful hills of Malibu to a campsite that could have been pulled straight out of any summer camp film. I had arrived at Comfort Zone.

I met and greeted other “Bigs” and staffers, found my cabin, and unloaded my stuff. Then we all waited eagerly for our “Littles” to arrive. As the sun set, rain began to fall, and the temperature dropped quickly. The camp began to sprout rivers of mud by the time all the Littles began to arrive, some eager to leave their normal life in the dust and have a wondrous, magical weekend at camp. Some crying not wanting to leave the comfort and protection of their family. I looked around for a face I would not recognize with nervous apprehension as all around me Bigs greeted their Little for the first time.

After a while worry crept over my face, it seemed that everyone’s Littles had arrived except mine. Finally, I was approached by staff and told there was an issue. My Little had arrived but was refusing to stay. Many people went to talk to him and they finally got him out of the car into the cafeteria. It seemed like everyone in camp was trying to convince him to stay. It was my first time at camp and all the Bigs but me were bonding with their Littles, playing games, sharing stories, and having a great time. I stood alone, lost, confused about what to do.

Finally, in what seemed like ages, they brought him over to me to be introduced. My Little was a not-so-little, angst-ridden seventeen-year-old. This was his second time at camp and from the deepest reaches of his soul, did not want to be there. After a brief chat, he tried to leave. However, once he realized his mother had left him, he shut down, refused to talk to anyone, and walked outside into the damp darkness. We found him standing in the torrential downpour like a sponge, you could feel his anger swelling with every drop of rain. As I saw him out there something inside of me click on. I knew right then — this was my zero hour.

Here was a kid, alone, lost, and confused like we have all been at one time or another. At that moment my empathy exploded. Without hesitation I walked outside, instantly getting soaked to the bone and not even noticing. The rain washing away all of my problems, all of my other identities — I was a Big and I had a job to do.

Alone with the white noise of the rain pounding all around us, I spoke. I told him that he was here and that it sucks, but he wasn’t alone, that I was there for him. I made him understand I was on his side, and that, sure, he was stuck here for three days, but no one was going to make him do anything he didn’t want to do. I would be his gatekeeper, his confidant, and his friend. I don’t know if it was my inspired speech, the piercing rain turning his blood to ice or he was tired of fighting, but he eventually gave in and followed me back to our cabin.

On Saturday my Little, still reserved, socialized a bit with some of the other kids. Then, to my surprise, decided to join us in some activities. Once committed, he melded with other truly amazing kids who accepted him wholeheartedly. He even showed great leadership skills in some of our group activities. I couldn’t help but beam a little.

In the long run, I don’t know how much I helped him deal with his grief. Our teenage years have a way of tearing down even the most resilient of us. To carry an extra burden of loss during those fragile years, that extra grief can easily tip the scales. By the end of the weekend, I knew exactly what my role was and why I would always continue coming back. I understood that it’s these little connections that matter, that help us understand different perspectives. It’s knowing we are not alone that helps us open ourselves up to the world. All these little connections we have throughout our lives create who we are and who we will eventually become.

About a month or so later, I signed up again and was paired with an amazing nine-year-old boy who was super excited to be there; he was a huge Star Wars fan and loved the outdoors. Needless to say, we got along smashingly.


Orientation: Yes. Mandatory.
Commitment: Orientation – 6hrs. Camp big buddy – 3 days/2 nights (Fri-Sun).
Cost: $25 donation.

This entry is part of 2011’s Project 365 – Volunteering 12 places in 12 months.