Comfort Zone Camp

Pete Shrock surrounded by some of the amazing folks who make Richmond (and beyond) a better place to live.

Pete Shrock surrounded by some of the amazing folks who make Richmond (and beyond) a better place to live.

Long-time camp volunteer Karen Reilly-Jones nominated Comfort Zone Camp’s Chief Program Officer and National Spokesperson Pete Shrock for a High Five. That led to a Sunday morning of learning about Comfort Zone, and the great work Pete and his team do for kids who have experienced the loss of a parent, sibling, or primary caregiver. There’s so much to love here. So much. High Five RVA has the scoop.

H5RVA: Pete! It would be hard for me to believe that someone hasn’t heard about Comfort Zone Camp, but if you stumbled upon someone who hadn’t, what would be the top three things you would want them to walk away with?

Pete: 1) Ten years ago I started as a volunteer big buddy at Comfort Zone. I had no idea at that time it would become the largest part of my driving force even a decade later. It is taking a step out of our own comfort zone to help others that we often times walk away with the greatest gift. Comfort Zone is one of the most beautiful humbling experiences one person can have.

2) Comfort Zone Camp (CZC) is a national non-profit that provides therapeutic grief services to children and families. CZC has a wide range of service: family programs, 1 day and three-day camps. Children attending Comfort Zone have suffered the death of a parent, sibling or guardian. All the programs are at NO cost to the children and families we serve!

3) Grief is a NORMAL response to death in our life. Comfort Zone is for every child and wants to advocate so kids can heal, grieve and grow in healthy ways. You do not have to attend camp to make a difference. Please donate to change the life of a child.

H5RVA: What about Hello Grief?

Pete: Hello Grief is a sister site to was designed to share stories, powerful grief moments, a way to remember the individual that died in our life and to share practical tips with educators, mental health professionals and families. You do not have to be a Comfort Zone community member to leverage Hello Grief as a resource. It is a free resource offered to the broader community. Not every person, child or organization can make it to camp so we have brought it to them!  I wrote an article for families that discussed Significant Emotional Experiences and how they help us SEE things differently:

H5RVA: How do you reach those who need you the most? Are we (as a whole) still hard on ourselves when it comes to accepting help with grief?

Pete: The idea of “reaching those in need” is a ton of pressure we all put on ourselves in a healthy community. In my mind it is about being present in your community. Like a colleague of mine, Jessi Schmale says, “being present and mindful means to be where your feet are, and where your heart is.” We have to embrace that these losses happen in our lives and in the lives of those we care about and those that we have not yet met. Death is a common denominator in our society. We all should walk with empathy and abandon judgment. We are all individuals and therefore grieve differently. Reaching out means being compassionate when you see the moment to offer compassion. Whether that is offering conversation, questions, or just sitting in the presence of someone who is grieving.  

As people who grieve we often feel as though our emotions are not valid or that we are “falling apart” and shouldn’t be vulnerable. Not the case. Our emotion can often times reflect the impact of the loss in our life. Accepting help is difficult in any situation. We want to know we can do it. But not every walk is necessary or as powerful alone. This is why we believe in Big Buddies at camp.

H5RVA: Do you have a favorite Comfort Zone story?

Pete: WOW, there are so many to choose from! I think I will have to limit it to two stories.

1st.  I was serving as a Healing Circle Leader (therapeutic group leader) at camp and had a young 7 year-old girl in my group. She was deeply crying during a group and continued to cry after the group was dismissed. As the leader I worked hard to understand her pain and desire to express that pain openly to the group. She had struggled to share her father’s death but had in that group. I asked her, “is there something else you would like to share with me?” The young girl replied, “yes.” She continued, “ I think I am the reason my dad died… if I had not asked him to come back to the steps that morning to give me another hug then he would have never been in that car accident.” As she said the words her emotions poured from her eyes. She was releasing months’ worth of pain, guilt and false ownership. As adults we don’t always realize the truths that children hold. We want to tell them things are going to be better before we listen to why they think it isn’t. In listening that moment and being with her she was able to share her darkest fear. She was able to release the emotions that kept her withdrawn. And ultimately process that she was not the reason her father was no longer alive.

2nd. I named my daughter after a young camper at camp. I will not share her full name but her nick name was “Izzy.”  At one of my first camps I met this sweet little girl at the Saturday night camp dance. Back when that was a thing at camp! Izzy was an adorable 7 year-old who had a death of a parent. She was standing and smiling big watching the kids dance and laugh. I walked up to her and asked if she wanted to dance with her friends. The little girl, wearing a red bandana in her blond hair looked up at me and asked… “Will you teach me how to dance?” I dropped to my knees and began dancing with her. At the end of the song… with tears in her eyes she thanked me. Izzy and I saw each other many times over the years at camp. When my fist daughter (of two) was born I named her Isabella to honor “Izzy” and that dance that still sits in my heart.

H5RVA? How can people help?

Pete: SIMPLY PUT - - - VOLUNTEER, REFER, and DONATE.  Every child comes to camp free of charge with your donation. We always ask ourselves, “what can I do?” Here is your chance. Do not wait to make a difference in the life of a child invest in the life of a child so we are ready to help!

H5RVA: What are you going to do with this High Five?

Pete: Take a picture of me and my High Five and share it with all the CZC community on Facebook. Not because I think I deserve it, but because of them I earned it...people like Karen Reilly Jones.

Amy McCracken