Camp Good Mourning 2012

The buzz of laughter and joy permeated the damp air and wound its way through the trails, cabins and activity areas of Camp Twin Lakes this past weekend.

This isn’t what you might expect from a camp that serves grieving children.

But Camp Good Mourning is no ordinary camp.

Ordinary is fishing with bait.

But at Camp Good Mourning, the kids of Kate’s Club fish with pancakes.

Ordinary is standing on the ground.

But at Camp Good Mourning, the kids of Kate’s Club climb the two-story-high Pamper Pole to ascend past their fears before leaping to grab a trapeze.

Ordinary is grieving alone because no one you know understands how you feel.

But through Camp Good Mourning, Kate’s Club has redefined ordinary by bringing together kids across Atlanta who have lost a parent or a sibling to grieve together and to laugh together.

This year, 130 kids came to Camp Good Mourning with Kate’s Club, up from 90 in 2011, 75 in 2010 and 40 in 2009.

“It’s kind of a pinch me moment for sure,” said Kate Atwood, who initially brought a handful of kids to Camp Twin Lakes for a day-long outing in 2003, the year she founded Kate’s Club.

Camp Good Mourning is the signature annual programmatic event at Kate’s Club. The idea is to bring kids together in a traditional camp setting to enjoy activities, friendship and to learn how to deal with their grief in a positive way. At Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge, GA, the kids of Kate’s Club swim, hike, rock climb, play music, make arts and crafts and attend the annual camp dance. They also participate in grief support activities which support sharing their loss with their peers and learning new ways to cope with their feelings.

They also take risks where they have to wear harnesses on an elevated swing, the Pamper Pole and a zip line.

“My stomach like dropped! It’s really fun!,” Grace Hensel said of the swing.

Josiah Gnanamuttu has been coming to Camp Good Mourning since 2005. This year, he finally was able to grab the trapeze as he took the leap of the Pamper Pole.

“Last year, I missed,” he recalled. “I was a lot shorter.”
Growth is what Kate’s Club is about. The kids laugh together, grieve together and grow together.
Ryan Barnard, 19, was spending his second Camp Good Mourning as a junior buddy this year.
After growing up in Kate’s Club, he graduated in 2011 but wanted to give back to the kids of Kate’s Club as he was given to during his five years participating in Kate’s Club programs.
“I really wanted to do this because the buddies really inspired me and helped me come back to camp,” he said.
The first time Michael Ferrara volunteered as a buddy at camp was during the 2009 Camp Good Mourning when there were 40 kids in attendance.
“There’s a great balance between talking and having their last fun for the summer,” he said of the 16-year-old boys in his cabin.
Anything can happen at Camp Good Mourning, including impromptu dance parties.
“They’re so funny. They’re so sweet,” Becca Riddick said of her 12-year-old girls as they danced in unison during the middle of the radio show they were producing.
Becca first came to camp as a 17-year-old after her mom, Teresa Donley, passed away.
“I love being back here besides being sleep deprived,” she said laughing.
The Luminary Walk, which began in 2011 at camp, always has a major impact on Mary Howell, Kate’s Club Board Chair who also serves as a Kate’s Club buddy.

“This year, my cabin’s experience was slightly delayed. We walked past our cabin’s luminaries and I was surprised to see the girls so composed,” Mary said. “About 20 seconds later I felt silent sobs racking the body of one of my campers walking in front of me and then came a low, long wail. That gave the other girls permission and the rest of the cabin, except for one camper walking the luminary walk with her little sister, dissolved into tears. We made it back to our luminaries and just sat. The little sister went back to her luminary a couple of cabins down and the big sister then had her release, she said she didn’t want to cry in front of her sister – a brave 10-year-old protecting her 6-year-old sister. Last year’s luminary walk was emotional, but this year’s was more raw and deep.”

This was the first camp for Rachel Ezzo, Kate’s Club’s Director of Development, who was also moved immensely by the Luminary Walk.

“One boy was having a really difficult time. He literally was sitting in the path doubled over crying and screaming,” Rachel said. “His little brother, whose death he witnessed, had only died six months ago. Some of the boys from his cabin and girls surrounded him, sat with him, talked with him and shared stories. To see these kids comfort him was amazing.”

This is why it’s called Camp Good Mourning.
As the kids at Kate’s Club mourn, they are allowed to grieve through laughter and through tears.
But instead of grieving alone, they grieve with peers.
They are brothers and sisters in grief, who share stories of life and death, love and loss.
And when they are older, they’ll come back together to share their camp memories about spirit time and birthday cake, impromptu dances and trips down the zip line.
When all was said and done, and the buses had returned to Atlanta, it wasn’t only the kids of Kate’s Club who couldn’t wait to be back at camp in 2013.

Mary Howell said as she and first-time camp buddy Elizabeth Grannan were transferring kids and luggage back to guardians in the blazing sun in Midtown on Sunday afternoon, Elizabeth summed up the weekend perfectly.

“I’m hot, sweaty, hungry, overtired, and I can’t wait to do this again next year!”


To experience Camp through Mary’s pictures, visit her Picassa page, and to watch more videos of Camp Good Mourning, visit the Kate’s Club YouTube page.
Would you like to share your story? Please contact us at griefawarenesday@gmail.com