At Summer 365, our Counselors always say, “camp is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child.” This could not be truer for the children and families that get the privilege of being a part of the COPE-Camp Erin family. Camp Erin, established in partnership by the Moyer Foundation and the COPE Foundation, is the nation’s largest network of childhood bereavement camps. Amazingly, it is also FREE for all families. On Monday, April 14th, HBO is featuring an extremely moving documentary that tells the story of Camp Erin, and how it has positively and uniquely influenced these special campers.
We were lucky enough to sit down with the director of Camp Erin NYC, Ann Fuchs, to talk about the wonderful and moving experiences she has had during her time at Camp Erin.
Tell us a little about Camp Erin.
COPE-Camp Erin NYC is a free bereavement camp designed for children and teens ages 6-17 who are grieving the death of a parent, sibling or someone close to them. It is a free, weekend-long experience filled with traditional fun camp activities combined with grief and emotional support, facilitated by grief professionals and trained volunteers.
How did you first get involved with Camp Erin?
In 1992, My friend, Lilly Julien, mourning the untimely loss of her 20 year-old daughter, Michelle, helped gather a group of parents living with the loss of a child to come together for solace and support. They began meeting informally in the safety of each other’s homes, finding comfort and support by being together and freely expressing their grief with people who could understand. Through this sense of community, they were able to heal and impact each other’s lives while remaining eternally connected to their children. They began reaching out to other parents living with the loss of their children, and their group grew into a larger network. Their experiences together resulted in the creation in 1999 of COPE (Connecting Our Paths Eternally), a non-profit foundation dedicated to providing emotional support to individuals and families who are struggling to live with the loss of a child or sibling. COPE has grown into an organization serving the needs of approximately 680 families in the New York Tri-State area, providing emotional, spiritual, and therapeutic programs including parent and sibling support groups, alternative healing workshops, a grief hotline, as well as resources and referrals.
In 2011, COPE partnered with The Moyer Foundation and expanded its mission to help grieving children with the inauguration of COPE-Camp Erin® NYC. Lily and I both worked at Camp Wayne, a beautiful facility where Camp Erin is held each summer. She was interviewing people for the director position and I thought this was a perfect fit for me.
What is your camp background?
I was a camper myself for several years. I was also a counselor at a day camp in New York for 8 years. Then, I was a counselor and the Athletic Director at Camp Wayne for 20 years. During this time, I was the Director at Sun Lake Sports and Arts Camp in Florida for a year, where I was responsible for creating/developing and opening the camp. Finally, I was a camp consultant myself for 13 years! Now, I have had the pleasure of being the Director of COPE-Camp Erin NYC for the past 2 years and counting!
How has Camp Wayne been a part of this project?
Where COPE-Camp Erin is held each summer. Unwavering support from owners/directors Georgeanne and Noel Corpuel and Adena and Matt Brown. Camp Alumni make up close to 75% of the staff and have been instrumental in spearheading our fundraising efforts.
What is your favorite part about Camp Erin?
From the minute the kids arrive until the minute they leave!!! Every part of it is special because we know it goes so quickly The fact that we are providing them with a safe, secure environment where they are with other children who understand their feelings and learn they are not alone! Often times camp is the first time kids have addressed their grief.
How has it evolved since you first started?
Since so many of the staff were either Camp Wayne alumni or staff members, we hit the road running. We have so much camp experience it was just a matter of tweaking things with regard to our population. Each year we strive to make it better. It is very high energy combined with grief activities and support, which mimics the highs and lows of the campers daily home experience. Their highs are high and their lows are low.
What has been your most rewarding moment working at Camp Erin?
It’s very full circle for me… Being able to give back, at a place I love with people I love while making a difference in children’s lives. The biggest joy is seeing the transformation of the children. The campers who arrive on Friday are not the same campers who leave on Sunday. Their fear and trepidation is replaced by smiles, a sense of hope, the knowledge they have the tools to make their journey easier, and the comfort that they have new friends to lean who understand their life experience.
What have you learned from both this experience at Camp Erin and your previous camp experiences?
There is such joy and sadness in life, Children are so vulnerable and malleable. Both environments offer support and a place to be yourself and try new things. The sky is the limit! Camp doesn’t judge or give you a score or a grade. That’s the real beauty.
How has being a camper and working at camp affected your adult life?
It is incredibly energizing. You see the fun in life, and you learn to work with others and be a good listener. It has taught me to understand the importance of supporting and encouraging others, how to be a leader, how to communicate effectively, opportunity to look outside of the box, to be your self, importance of being responsible, act with integrity… I could go on and on!
What are words of wisdom you would give to current and future campers?
If you are fortunate enough to go to camp, you are being given a special gift that is not accessible to all. So, “Don’t wait for the perfect moment, make each moment perfect” cause there are only good days and great days at camp!
What are three words to describe your camp experience?
Rewarding, exhilarating, outrageous FUN with best friends!
For more information about COPE-Camp Erin NYC, including how to attend or volunteer, please visit www.copefoundation.org/camperin or contact Ann Fuchs, Camp Director at (914) 939-5338 or [email protected]
ONE LAST HUG: THREE DAYS AT GRIEF CAMP, is premiering exclusively on HBO this Monday, April 14th, at 8PM (ET/PT). Tune in and join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or on our site, www.summer365.com.