Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Yankees HOPE Week Day 3: Experience Camps


The Yankees and children from Experience Camps took part in a sharing circle. Provided by New York Yankees.

On Wednesday, the Yankees HOPE Week event honored Experience Camps, a national no-cost program that transforms the lives of grieving children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling, or primary caregiver through summer camp programs and year-round initiatives.

CEO Sara Daren is the leader of Experience Camps, which connects with more than 70 percent of its campers through social media. Their platforms provide an online community and outlet to grieving children, as well as resources across the globe.

Yankees players Clay Holmes, Jose Trevino, Tommy Kahnle, Ian Hamilton, Ron Marinaccio, Trent Grisham, Victor Gonzalez, and Jahmai Jones, with Pitching Coach Matt Blake, Third Base Coach Luis Rojas, Bullpen Coach Mike Harkey, and Bullpen Catcher Rainiero Coa surprised kids from Experience Camps at Dave & Buster's in Pelham Manor for an afternoon of arcade games and lunch.

Clay Holmes and Ron Marinaccio look on as a camper plays a fishing game. Provided by New York Yankees.

Victor Gonzalez (left) and Luis Rojas play Hot Wheels racing game with campers. Provided by New York Yankees.

Trent Grisham watches camper shoot hoops. Provided by New York Yankees.

Following the meal, children from Experience Camps and the Yankees had a sharing circle, in which they opened up about their own experiences of loss, and what the camp means to them. (main photo)

At Yankee Stadium, the group watched batting practice from the field, and was recognized in a pregame ceremony, as it received AmeriCorps' President's Volunteer Lifetime Service Award, with CEO Michael Smith presenting it. 

The New York Yankees Foundation gave a $10,000 donation to Experience Camps, and that was presented by foundation representatives Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal, Haley Steinbrenner Swindal and Julia Steinbrenner. (photo below)

Provided by New York Yankees.


Losing a parent or sibling is something no child should have to experience. Millions of kids and teens throughout the country lose a parent or sibling every year, with 1-in-5 children losing someone close to them by the end of high school. The trauma resulting from these losses often results in a myriad of social and emotional difficulties, which can have short- and long-term effects.

In 2009, Experience Camps CEO Sara Deren was laid off from her job in the financial world and decided to become involved in her husband’s business as a boys summer camp owner in Maine. When a neighboring girls-only camp reached out to ask if her camp could assist with a girls bereavement program they were doing, her interest was piqued. Many of the girls had brothers that needed similar help, and Sara was immediately swept into her life’s calling.

The formula was to provide a week of free overnight summer camp to help kids and teens cope with their losses and give them the tools to push through and process their grief, while providing the assurance that they are not alone and are part of a shared experience.

“Grief can be such an isolating experience because people are uncomfortable talking about it — especially kids,” Deren said in an interview. “And that isolation can lead to all sorts of negative outcomes. I want to create a world where no child feels alone in their grief.”

The bulk of a day at camp is simply group play, sports and games just like other camps, but the remainder is clinically informed bereavement support to give the kids coping tools and language to help them bring out what’s going on inside.

“The first day is a party,” said Deren. “We dance and sing and play sports, and we bring down the walls and let them know we are going to have a great time here. That first night we have a campfire, and we gather everyone up, and we very gently talk about why we’re all here. We say, ‘Look to your left and look to your right, everyone here has had somebody really important to them die.’  We explain how we are going to spend the week going to whatever space you need to be in — whether that’s ignoring the grief so you can be a child again or making space for the grief because you’re holding up the walls for everyone else in your family. There are so many different expectations on a grieving child, and we just tell them that this week you just need to be you.

“Most kids will say that they don’t know anyone going through what they are going through and yet there are 6 million kids who will grieve the death of a parent or sibling by the time they turn 18 — but they don’t know each other. A lot of them don’t like to talk about it, especially to friends at school who have no way of identifying with that kind of loss. But when the kids arrive at camp — from the second they get off the bus — they know that everyone around them gets it. They have a shared bond. While they don’t need to talk about it at camp, they end up wanting to talk about it, and you have these magical moments where a kid may be walking down to dinner and the words start spilling out of them because they haven’t had that place to share those words with a peer.”

Experience Camps started with 27 kids in 2009, growing slowly on a year-to-year basis through outreach into the grief community and from personal referrals. As recently as 2021, just 10% of applications came from people who learned of the camp online or through other outside sources. However, since creating social media profiles on TikTok (161K followers), Instagram (60K followers) and Facebook (10K followers), that percentage has quickly risen to 70%. Kids, teens and parents throughout the United States and abroad have discovered Experience Camps through their social media feeds, and applications have soared through the roof to the point that last year the organization hosted more than 1,400 kids with approximately 800 volunteers across 13 different camp locations around the country.

“Our camp hosts kids from Grades 4-12, and part of our model is that they come back every year,” said Deren. “Around 85-90% of the kids continue with us for years and some go on to become volunteers, because their grief evolves as they grow up, and we want to be there with them as that happens.”

Additionally, the camp advisory board has assisted in the creation of, which is a unique online resource that communicates about grief in a down-to-earth way, with voices and videos that children and teens can relate to.

“We can’t fix grief, but we can help kids integrate their loss in a positive way,” said Deren. “We can help move them toward joy and success and happiness and positive outcomes in their lives. All of this magic is intended to help them find their way through it.”

No comments:

Post a Comment