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How camp is helping children who lost loved ones to COVID 'get back to being a kid again'

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Posted at 2:49 PM, Nov 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-16 14:51:25-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- At the Richmond-based Comfort Zone Camp, 9-year-old Cooper stood next to his big buddy and gently swayed to Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” Cooper wanted to play the song during the camp’s closing ceremony to honor and remember his late father, who died of complications of COVID-19.

Sixty-one-year-old Michael Dorman passed away on Christmas Day 2021, one month after being admitted to the hospital. His untimely death gave his family little time to say goodbye.

Jillian and Cooper Dorman
Jillian and Cooper Dorman

“He was my best friend,” Cooper says. “I loved him a lot and my mom did, too.”

“He said he would be coming home by Christmas Day,” adds Cooper’s mom, Jillian. “We didn’t realize what home he was speaking of.”

Jillian Dorman enrolled Cooper in the Comfort Zone Camp, a bereavement camp for children who’ve experienced the loss of a parent, sibling, or primary caregiver. Over the past 20 years, the camp has helped more than 20,000 children through fun activities, healing circles and campfires.

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In early November, the camp held a special session for children and teens impacted by COVID 19 loss. About a dozen children joined the camp’s regular session, to participate with kids grieving several types of loss.

After the terrorist attacks in 2001, Comfort Zone reached out to 9/11 families in New York, New Jersey, and Northern Virginia. Two decades later, they are reaching out to families tragically impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic for many of the same reasons.

“Here’s a place they can get back to being a kid again,” says camp founder Lynne Hughes.

Lynne Hughes, founder of Comfort Zone Camp
Lynne Hughes, founder of Comfort Zone Camp

Like 9/11 families, Hughes says many children impacted by COVID 19 loss feel like they’re grieving in a fishbowl for everyone to see. She says the politically charged nature of the pandemic, has also led to unique challenges that prevents healing for many children.

“We’ve heard so many campers say, both children and we’ve also heard their parent say, that they’ve almost stopped telling people how their loved ones died because immediately people are judging them and saying, ‘Well, were they vaccinated, or did they get boosted?’”

Robin, Riley and Robin Drake.
Robin, Riley and Robin Drake.

Seventeen-year-old Bri Drake, who lost her father to COVID, says bonding with other teens who’ve experienced similar loss, has helped both her and her younger brother, Riley. Both attended the camp’s regular session prior to the special COVID camp.

“They have the same similar experiences, and it makes it better for us because out there in the world people don’t know what we’re going through,” Bri says. “They try to, but they don’t understand.”

Bri and Riley’s mother, Robin, says she feels comfort knowing that her children have a safe place to laugh, grieve and share their feelings with others who understand their pain.

“They always come out enjoying it and just so refreshed from all the positive experiences they’ve encountered here at camp and the bonds they have formed,” Robin says.

At the camp’s closing ceremony, many children performed songs, skits or read poems in honor of their loved ones.

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Jillian Dorman wiped away tears watching her son sway to the song that reminded him most of his dad. Jillian says her family was often on the road to help homeless families through the non-profit organization started by Cooper’s father.

“He was a bright spirit, a huge spirit,” Jillian says.

She says while Cooper still misses his dad every single day, he now has the tools to cope and the memories that will sustain him for a lifetime.

For more information on how the Comfort Zone Camp is helping grieving families deal with both death and “life” grief post pandemic, you can visit their website at http://comfortzonecamp.org.org

This segment is sponsored by WHOA Behavioral Health.