Experience Camps is expanding to serve kids in South Florida.The nonprofit provides a week long overnight camp for boys and girls who have lost a parent, sibling or loved one for free.
Thanks to a new partnership with Blue Ridge Camp in Georgia, the nonprofit is able to serve kids in the Southeast region. Since 2009, the nonprofit has partnered with camps in Maine, New York and California.
Experience Camps started with 27 campers. Now, they anticipate welcoming in between 400 and 500 campers entering fourth grade though seventh grade at four locations.
“A lot of our campers come to camp feeling alone and isolated,” said Delray resident Aron Weingard, who is a volunteer counselor and board member of Experience Camps. “They come to camp and make really good friends and gain a lot of confidence.”
This year, the dates are Aug. 1-6. During the week, Weingard said it is 90 percent fun with water skiing, games and sports. The other 10 percent is reserved for bereavement.
“The experience at camp gives kids the understanding that they aren’t alone,” he said. “It gives them the comfort to open up, sometimes for the first time ever.”
Weingard said the best week of his year is when he goes to camp to volunteer as a counselor. He attended Camp Manitou in Maine, which launched Experience Camps, so it is a chance for him to return to a place that was a part of his childhood.
The group has an 80 percent retention rate, he said. Campers are eligible to return to the camp year after year. He said many campers become counselors when they are too old to return as campers.
He is helping lead the expansion into the Southeast region. The camp is looking for 30 to 40 boys and girls. Families can visit http://www.experience.camp to apply. The application process is free.
“What this camp does for these kids is it really changes their lives,” he said. “The kids can just be kids. It’s a week they will never forget and it helps them begin the process of healing.”
Experience Camps is holding a fundraiser on May 6. It costs $1,000 to send one camper to camp. If you are interested in donating, you can do so on their website.