Is your child or a child you know coping with a loss? If so, healing may be only a ferry ride away. For the past 10 years, just southwest of Manhattan, hundreds of grieving adolescents have found peace at Staten Island’s unique summer camp, Camp Good Grief. Open to kids ages 7-16 years old, Camp Good Grief is a free camp powered by volunteers and donors who strive to create a place where kids feel able to share their loss, express how they feel, and find solace in the fact that they’re not alone. Confident in their ability to help kids, this weekend, Camp Good Grief is opening its doors to the rest of New York City.
“We feel that there is a great need in all five boroughs of the city for Camp Good Grief and we know we can help all kids,” director of Camp Good Grief Orly Wiseman says.
We reached out to Orly to learn more about what Camp Good Grief is all about. This is what she had to say.
How and why did Camp Good Grief begin?
Linda and Irwin Steinman lifelong Staten Islanders founded the Camp in 2009—the cause is close to their hearts. Each of them have children who have lost a parent and sibling—they had “firsthand knowledge of the heartache and difficulty their losses have created,” said Irwin Steinman. He lost his son Alexander, a Cantor Fitzgerald employee to the 9/11 attacks and his first wife also died tragically, in a car accident. Linda, his wife, also lost a spouse. They were motivated to start the camp in Staten Island when they visited a similar program in Florida. Since it was launched, Camp Good Grief of SI has helped over 900 children and we are very proud that our kids have stayed connected with us. This year we are starting a Counselor in Training (CIT) program which is open to our former campers who are always asking to come back for another weekend.
I understand the camp has lots of activities to keep children busy with fun-filled activities to create a positive atmosphere for grieving children, but how does Camp Good Grief help kids heal?
The mission of Camp Good Grief is to provide a safe setting for children and teens to grieve the loss of a loved one. Our weekend is a supportive experience filled with fun activities and opportunities for kids to express themselves if they want to. We want to help them create positive memories, facilitate bonding, and support each other. Sometimes just knowing that everyone is there for the same reason helps kids feel better about their own loss. There are no right or wrong ways for people to grieve and the timeline is never the same. Our children are supported through developmentally appropriate activities including art, play, and a ceremony honoring their loved one. Being together for an entire weekend allows our kids the opportunity to talk, share, and remember. At camp, kids make connections with peers and feel supported by our staff as they learn that there are other kids in the same situation who totally and completely understand what they are experiencing.
What made Camp Good Grief decide to expand its reach from Staten Island and how will kids from NYC’s 5 boroughs get to Camp Good Grief?
We’re expanding because more people have heard about what we do and we are getting a lot of inquiries about camp. We’ve been contacted by several departments at the major hospitals in Manhattan and other boroughs about our services, so we are excited to expand. We feel that there is a great need in all five boroughs of the city for Camp Good Grief and we know we can help all kids.
Camp Good Grief offices are located on Staten Island. The camp itself happens at the JCC on Manor Road in Staten Island. It’s a beautiful, spacious modern facility. In terms of transportation, we are able to pick up and drop off from the SI Ferry, and in unique circumstances, we can make arrangements to provide transportation.
How do kids register and are there any qualifications to attend the camp?
Once we receive an application, we call the family to talk about each individual circumstance and we set up a meeting so we can get to know each other before camp starts. Sometimes we’ll do Skype calls or often we meet in person. The only qualification is that a child is grieving.
How does this free overnight camp for kids who are grieving run?
First of all, Camp is supported by the generosity of donors and sponsors. As we expand, we are always grateful for any additional support. Our team of volunteers has been with us for about 10 years —they are devoted to camp and the kids and somehow always manage to make themselves available. The camp is staffed by trained counselors and security screened volunteers. We also have nurses with us 24 hours a day. We are accepting applications for qualified volunteers —the process starts by filling out an application that you can find on our website, campgoodgriefsi.org.
What is your favorite thing about Camp Good Grief?
This is my third year as director of Camp Good Grief and I am always amazed at the relationships I see forming at camp. We assemble kids who don’t know each other and within 20 minutes of meeting, they start connecting. My favorite moment so far was during this past camp, we were encouraging a group of our teenage campers to go sleep (it was getting late) and they gleefully pushed back and said, “we can’t go to bed, we’re busy making lifelong friends.” It was a WOW moment for me and really sums up what we do here—putting kids together and finding a common language for sharing.
Thanks so much, Orly for sharing a bit about Camp Good Grief with us! Can’t wait to hear about how the next camp (May 31 – June 2) goes and see the positive impact on the lives of children throughout New York City!
Orly Wiseman, a television producer by trade, swapped working for places like PBS, Showtime, MTV, History Channel, and other networks for another cause close to her heart, her neighbors. In 2015, when Staten Island was suffering from an opioid epidemic in 2015, Wiseman set aside TV production to produce a Grief Conference, providing people with support and information during this trying time. After producing the Grief Conference and experiencing Camp Good Grief she says, “I was hooked.” For the past 3 years, Orly has been the Director of Camp Good Grief, helping the organization develop and expand. Having always believed in working on “stuff that matters,” Orly now dedicates her time to help as many kids and families as possible through her position at Camp Good Grief.
To learn more about Camp Good Grief, visit campgoodgriefsi.org.