There is no combination of words that can accurately describe the way in which Experience camps has changed my life. Two and a half years ago, my 21-year-old brother, Scott, suddenly and shockingly lost his life. Heartbroken and paralyzed, my family began the journey of rebuilding our life- a life after Scott. Scott quickly became known as the most selfless and genuine individual. My parents and I started a movement called Selfless for Scott, putting on community volunteer events and encouraging our family and friends to participate in selfless acts of kindness. While channeling what it was like to be more like Scott and think selflessly, I began recognizing my desire to help others in need. I felt particularly strong about helping others who had been through a devastating loss like I had. I figured that if I had to go through this, the one positive could be that I'm able to help others navigate the pain I've come to understand too well.
One night I was scrolling on Facebook and came upon a quote posted by Modern Loss. Modern Loss defines themselves as a group of people, mostly in their 20s-40s grappling with and connecting over the complex, gut wrenching, illuminating, rest-of-lifelong and hilarious sh*t we all know formally and more politely as "living with loss". It's a closed group on Facebook and you have to write to them explaining why you want to join. I immediately joined the group and each night would scroll through reading posts by others. One day I was reading an article that mentioned a couple of the most helpful things for those grieving a significant loss. Experience Camps was on the list. I was curious about it, so I started researching. As soon as I started, I was hooked. It combines so many of the most important to me; helping others dealing with grief, overnight camp, new experiences, bonding, and other people who "get it."
The moment I arrived to Experience Camps Maine (SomEx) I felt at home. I was lucky enough to meet 40 spirited, strong, optimistic, incredible campers and 20+ co-counselors that share in the same heartbreaking experience that I do. They've shown me what it truly means to be resilient and become the best version of myself. Together we laughed, cried, sat in our sadness, roasted s'mores, participated in epic relay races and minute to win it challenges, and celebrated the life of the person or people that have died. The Experience Camps community has given me the strength to share my story and continue to build a life focused on helping others. I feel beyond lucky to have met a group of people who have not only experienced this kind of devastating loss of a parent or sibling but have become stronger because of it.
One of my most memorable camp moments was the SomEx talent show. One of my campers decided she didn't want to participate with the rest of our cabin while they performed a hand-clapping routine we'd been practicing during meals. I told her she, of course, did not have to perform. I had felt particularly connected to this camper since we both lost our loved one in the same way. She came to me often throughout the week when she needed to be comforted or needed an extra push to do something out of her comfort zone. Half way through the talent show she came up to me and asked if she could perform, not only with our cabin but an act of her own. Perplexed but excited I told the talent show staff that she wanted to add her act to the lineup. She got up on stage all by herself and sang the song Rise Up by Rhianna. I don't know how to explain the immense pride and happiness I felt during those 3 minutes. She went from not wanting to go up on stage at all to going up by herself and singing a song about perseverance and a reminder to just stand up and take the next step. These are the kind of transformations that Experience Camps help create. Being surrounded by a room of people who "get it" gave my camper the courage to express her grief and sadness in a profound way, encouraging everyone to persevere through the tough times.
Over the past couple months my family has been selling donation cards displaying Scott's artwork on the front with all proceeds to benefit Experience Camps. We have raised $11,200 which will send 11 different kids to camp this summer. We are completely blown away by the success of the donation cards. There is no place I would rather donate the money. Thank you thank you thank you to Experience Camps for giving me newfound friends, strength, and resilience. I am eternally grateful and can't wait to continue making memories each summer at camp.