Comfort Zone Weekends Help Grieving Kids Heal

A space for newly-bereaved youngsters to open up about complex feelings.

Teenage girl enjoying the outdoors.

(Darren Baker/

A newly-bereaved child or young adult suddenly finds themselves in an extremely traumatic situation. Not only are they processing the complex emotions of grief, but they are somehow expected to face the world, vulnerable, angry, and sad. And they are so often without the beloved family member they were used to leaning on to navigate life, reports 6  News Richmond. Thankfully, organizations like Comfort Zone Camps exist for them. For over two decades, nonprofit Comfort Zone Camps (CZC), has offered a free weekend of camp for children who’ve lost a parent, sibling, or caregiver, Insider details.

Its weekend camps are a place where sadness is understood but also where participants are helped to make grief more manageable, and empowered to look ahead. Their mission? “Comfort Zone empowers grieving children to fully realize their capacity to heal, grow, and lead more fulfilling lives,” the website details. 

Popsugar explains, that much of the intentional grief processing happens during “Healing Circles.” These are reflection sessions led by mental health professionals for various age groups. Kids are also paired with a “big buddy mentor” giving them encouragement and support throughout the weekend.

Guided by a founder with a heart
Founder and CEO, Lynne Hughes, knows first hand what it feels like to lose a parent as a child. She was just nine when her mother died, before a heart attack claimed the life of her father just two years later. A summer camp program she joined after his death, helped lighten her burden, functioning as a type of “magical bubble where time stood still and you could step outside of your loss,” Hughes tells Popsugar.

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Impacted by this positive experience, Hughes went on to create a summer camp of her own for grieving kids, over 20 years later.

Today’s reach and focus
Now established for over two decades, the organization Hughes founded has hosted over 23,000 campers for free from nearly 50 US states, Canada and the UK, to help kids and young people, and their families.

The CZCs have also evolved to address specific situations which leave complicated emotions in their wake. One of these is suicide. Since 2015, NJ Spotlight News reports, the nonprofit has run a program dedicated to helping children and families grapple with suicide loss and ofter them a space where they can feel free to celebrate the family member they have lost to suicide as well as mourn them.

The pandemic also created a new need for grief processing. In 2023 USA Today reported on how going back to school can re-trigger grief after COVID, and how CZCs are stepping up to help, reports that an estimated 200,000 US kids lost a parent or primary caregiver to COVID. CZC tells NJ Spotlight News that it held the largest COVID-loss bereavement camp to take place in the US to date.

Camper testimonials are perhaps the most moving expressions of the positive impact of CZCs. Take this statement from CZC camper turned volunteer, Niki Russo,  shared on the website: “Life felt almost unbearable when it came to losing my dad, and I never thought I would be able to get through it. Until I found Comfort Zone. It was the first place as a kid that I walked into that everyone treated me like a normal kid, I finally felt like I didn't have the word different written across my forehead. CZC gave me the coping skills I needed.”

Some participants and parents go on to give back to newly-bereaved kids
CZC participants continue to be trailblazers in grief counselling. In 2022, News12 Connecticut reported that a New Jersey CVC brought in people who lost parents in the 9/11 tragedy to help kids who’d lost parents to COVID cope with their loss. Counselor Katie Pereira, who lost her father Franco during the attacks, hopes she can help campers deal with their grief. “I want to be here and give back to the organization that gave me such a huge piece of my life back as a grieving child,” she said. 

Scott Antonick is another former attendee who has gone on to volunteer to help other recently-bereaved kids process their grief as a big buddy, motivated by his desire to help kids struggling with depression, anxiety and loss, 6 News Richmond reports.

Sandy Bruno is a mom whose daughters attended a Comfort Zone camp when her husband, Marc, died suddenly when they were just six and eight. She tells Insider, the couple’s worst fear had been the idea of not being there for their kids. It was a school grief counsellor who told them about CZCs. 

While her kids were hesitant at first, they ended up reluctant to leave camp when it was over. How was this rapid change of heart possible? She explains that their attachment was thanks to “the camp bubble,” something her girls talked about repeatedly on their return home. As Bruno details: “In the camp bubble, everyone understood what you were going through. You could talk about your loss, and people would listen and be present; they just understood. My girls told me they wished the whole world was like camp.”

This understanding touched Bruno’s soul. She witnessed first hand how through attending Comfort Zone, her kids were able to heal, learn to trust others, and be empowered by sharing their story. She reveals that as individuals who have been helped to cope with loss,  they are kinder and more focused on making a positive impact in the world. She herself was inspired to retrain as a licensed clinical social worker, and today works with CZC as its youth and family coordinator,  to bring healing to other kids coping with grief.

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