Meet Bryan and Bryonte Washington
- Bryan, 14, is an eighth grader who plays football and basketball
- Bryonte, 12, is a sixth grader who plays soccer and basketball
- Bryan’s favorite sports team: Chicago Bulls
- Bryonte’s favorite book and series: Harry Potter
New at the Comfort Zone camp slated for fall: a cake topped with 13 candles. September 13 is Bryonte Washington’s birthday. It will be the third time he and his brother, Bryan, attend the camp.
“He’s so excited that it’s going to be on his birthday. The boys love the camps. They look forward to going to the camp each year,” said Tieshea Bradley, aunt and caregiver for Bryan, Bryonte and siblings, Bri’Yon, 7, and Bryshawn, 11. While Bryshawn has special needs, Bry’Yon is now of age to attend camp this fall.
After losing their mother in a drive-by shooting July 27, 2010, the Washington brothers rarely talked about their grief. Bryan’s anger flared in conversations with both family and friends. The scars of the boys’ loss ran deep. Something shifted, however, when Bryan and Bryonte attended the Sheilah A. Doyle’s inaugural camp in 2011.
“As far as the boys, they have bonded better. We talk and discuss and put things on the table. The camp has helped them do more talking,” said Tieshea. “Being boys, they don’t really talk about their inner feelings. Now, they talk about their mom. The healing circles helped them talk about it more and to come to me personally. “
Tieshea adds, “Bryan’s behavior has changed. He was almost on a rampage at the beginning. He was not working up to his potential and his attitude was really bad. When my sister passed, it got worse. The camp taught him to redirect his anger. Now, in his eighth grade year, he’s doing much better.” Tieshea and her crew are a living example of how the S.A.D. impacts whole families affected by homicide.
Hoping to be either a professional basketball player or high school gym teacher, Bryan considers how camp changed the way he opens up to others. “I liked the healing circle,” he says. “You could talk to people and they understand what you are talking about. When I first went there it was hard. I learned you could talk to people and not be scared and express your feelings.”
While at camp, kids are paired with a Big Buddy who shares similar interests. Last fall, Bryan was paired with camp veteran and S.A.D. scholarship recipient Josh Cooper. The impact he made on Bryan was amazing. “Josh told me to be strong. I looked up to him because he encouraged me to talk and not hold back,” said Bryan.
From the pictures he drew in his journal to the healing circles where campers are invited to share their stories, Bryan discovered positive ways to cope with grief. He says that sharing with other kids made him feel good. “I could talk to them and hear their story and know how they feel and I can share my story. At camp, you can express your feelings with other people,” he said.
Like his older brother, Bryonte aims to be a professional basketball player, but does have a plan B. He would like to someday be a preacher because he likes to go to church.
One of his favorite memories from camp was the obstacle course and rock climbing. Like the physical challenges he enjoyed, Bryonte has learned to navigate his way through his daily life and become stronger. He says, “I learned that I can express my feelings to other people. It is important because when you can tell somebody, it’s okay if you cry.”
While math is Bryonte’s favorite subject, he says camp helped him do better in all his subjects. “My grades went up because I could talk to my teachers better,” he said. Like his older brother, Bryonte liked spending time with his Big Buddy, Matt. “I liked that he liked basketball; he made me laugh,” he said.
For both Bryan and Bryonte, meeting other kids dealing with a loss from homicide has made a difference. Tieshea explains, “They learn to relate to other kids who have experienced the same thing they did. They really enjoy just being themselves. Usually when people find out, they don’t know what to say, they look at you funny, they give you sympathy. They have grown a lot from the camp. Every year they come back with something new they learn, something they are excited about.”
Tieshea’s unique telescope into the foundation reveals a connection with her family that will surely last a long time. She says, “The S.A.D. Foundation, they really have become a part of our family. They are so loving and caring and everything they do is so genuine. They are selfless. Even though he is a CEO, Kevin is right there at every camp. He was Bryan’s Big Buddy the first year. He participated with the boys. He’s giving his all being a mentor, talking in the healing circles. Because of who they are, it makes everything easier. They have been a blessing to my family. The foundation is going to go a long way because they have genuine love and they want to make a difference with no strings attached.”
In thinking about camp, Bryonte remembers writing these words on a brown paper bag, “rest in peace, mom, love you always.” He says, “I got to take the bag home. I felt excited that I could write my feelings on a bag and shine a light through it.”
The Sheilah A. Doyle Foundations wishes to thank Tieshea Bradley and Bryan and Bryonte Washington for sharing their stories. May each of you continue to shine your beautiful light in the world. See you in September!
Meet Kayla Roscoe
- Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation 2012 Scholarship Recipient
- College: University of North Carolina
- College Major: Business
- Grew up in Boston
- Studied dance for 13 years
My life came to a halt,
It was the conviction of the man that decided to play God,
Who removed you from my life,
And no one told me,
I would have never known,
Questioned when I will be grown,
If the question had no answer,
It would have affected me like cancer,
- Excerpt from "After Life and Before Death" by Kayla Roscoe -
Click here to download the poem
At 17 years of age, Kayla Roscoe feels that she has lived enough of life to write a book. And that is exactly what she aspires to do by the time she celebrates her next birthday. It will be a book of poetry, and she will draw on the many changes and experiences she has endured, including the loss of her father to gunfire on a very cold February day in 2009.
“My life is full of stuff that doesn’t happen to most people,” she said. “It wasn’t just that he died, but I was 13 when it happened, and then I learned about his past that day. It was very hard. Two thousand and twelve was the first time I felt talking about it was beneficial to me.”
Why that particular year? Kayla attended the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation camp last September at the urging of her mother who discovered its scholarship opportunities. Initially, Kayla didn’t think it was such a good idea. “A bunch of people whose parents are dead was not a happy thought to me,” she said. “Then my little sister was going (she had attended a previous Comfort Zone Camp), but she wasn’t going to go if I didn’t go. I thought it was going to be a bunch of little kids crying.”
Camp dissolved Kayla’s preconceptions and almost immediately put her at ease. “After the fist day I thought it was okay. I was with people who didn’t judge. You can’t imagine it if you haven’t gone through it. It’s extremely hard to have someone relate to you. That made a complete difference. Other people’s families aren’t functional. My family does not belong in the white, rich community we currently live in. The worst they experience is divorce. Meeting people with ridiculous stories like mine and feeling like I am not the only one who goes through this …,” she trailed off in a moment of deep thought, adding, “there are a lot of people who go through stuff and they don’t have support. The foundation is a great way to give support--it’s nice to share your story with people who have similar stories. You can go into greater detail about what happened.”
Although currently taking classes at Boston Community College, Kayla intends to study athletic training with a minor in business at the University of North Carolina in Pembroke. Dance has been a part of her life for 13 years and she is a skilled poet. She read her poem After Life & Before Death at the camp’s closing ceremonies with many a volunteer and camper feeling her emotion. “I was talking to Kevin and I told him I wanted to write a book and he said he would help me publish it. He said I was a good writer. Two books, actually, one of poems and one about my life since my father died. That’s probably going to take me a long time. But I’d like to publish the one on poetry by the time I’m 18,” said Kayla.
Kayla considered the S.A.D. Foundation’s role in our world today, commenting, “There is a need for S.A.D.—especially in big cities. People don’t think about it. The first thing that comes to mind is therapists, but they’re not always the best solution. There’s nothing like S.A.D. in North Carolina.”
Kayla comments on the S.A.D. Foundation’s camp, saying, “Going to the camp was the first time I ever had support from people who had remotely similar stories as me other than my siblings.”
The Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation congratulates you, Kayla, for sharing your story and we know that you will touch many lives in years to come with your beautiful poetry and books.
Meet Byron Moore
- Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation 2012 Scholarship Recipient
- College: Eastern Illinois University
- Major: Physical Therapy
- Played defensive end for Tinley Park High School
- Hopes to be a Big Buddy (camp volunteer) someday
- Five siblings: two brothers and a sister attended the 2011 and 2012 S.A.D. camps
“I was astonished … they (the Doyle family) got together and created an organization that would help other people realize that they are not alone, that there are other people who experienced what they experienced.”
Byron Moore imbues a quiet strength. At every turn, his deep, soft-spoken voice is edged with gratitude and respect for others. Growing up in Country Club Hills on Chicago’s South side, he credits a parish priest for teaching him a life lesson that has helped him, especially when he lost his mother at eleven years of age. “All of my grammar school years I was an altar boy. Father Daniel Mallette … I learned a lot from him about helping others. I try to every day model Jesus. I love helping other people and going out of my way to see people happy,” he said.
An alderman in Byron’s district told his family about the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation, prompting him to attend camp in 2011 and then again in 2012. In keeping with his generous nature, he hopes someday to be a Big Buddy, an adult volunteer paired up with each camper. Byron said, “I saw the Bigs last year and a lot of them were new to the camp. It gave me a lot of insight on what I was doing and how to talk to people and my attitude toward people. It made me think about the way I say things to people. Is there a better way to go about this? I started to think before I spoke.”
As a senior at Tinley Park High School, Byron almost declined attending camp last year. It was his first time on the school’s football team, and he loved playing the game. His position was defensive end on both the right and left line. His team was scheduled to play a game that weekend, and Byron didn’t want to miss it. A compromise was struck and he was invited to attend camp late. He was glad he did as he remembers his favorite moment. “It was going to be the healing circle. I heard everybody’s story. I wasn’t there the whole day. I felt what everybody felt—nervous, we didn’t know each other. When I walked in the room, though, I felt comfortable to tell my story without anyone second guessing me.”
Of Byron’s five siblings, he has seen a difference in his two brothers and sister, ages 10, 13 and 17, after they attended the S.A.D. camp. “The way they communicate with each other. When they initiate a conversation it used to be hostile, now they think about it and try again before they get to that point like a new mechanism of talking to each other. They try to be open to new ideas,” he said.
As a Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation 2012 scholarship recipient, Byron comments on not just his honor, but the Doyle family. He said, “I feel great about the scholarship. I’m very grateful for it. I’m going to continue to work and show that I deserve it. (It’s a) great foundation. I was thinking when I went to my luncheon that I was astonished that the situation they were in and they got together and created an organization that would help other people realize that they are not alone, that there are other people who experienced what they experienced. I’m grateful that they took the time to assess what was happening and start something like this.”
In the fall, Byron dons the Black Panthers logo at Eastern Illinois University and begins his studies in physical therapy, a field where he will definitely employ his desire to help others. “My hopes are that I’m successful,” he said. “If I could find a job where I’m constantly giving back again and helping people that would be my dream. And taking care of my family and not having to worry about struggling.”
When asked what advice he would give others who have lost someone they loved, Byron said, “There’s always a brighter side to an outcome. You have to be strong and know that everything’s going to be okay. You are not alone.”
The Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation applauds you, Byron, for your generous nature and believes that you will, indeed, make this world a better place.
Meet Sara Shotsberger
- S.A.D. Foundation Camp Big Buddy Volunteer, 2011 and 2012
- Social Worker with LEEDA Services, focusing on Chicago’s Howard community
- Chicago native
- Southern Illinois University undergraduate, Rehabilitation Services
- Loyola University Chicago, Masters in Social Work
Sara Shotsberger is a doer. A social worker by trade, she helps people tackle difficult issues every day: financial struggle, lack of education, dysfunctional families and violence. Sara attended a volunteer training session hosted by the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation because she thought it would strengthen her expertise in bereavement, possibly even giving her new light on loss that she herself has experienced.
What she got was much, much more.
“The camp selection process matches an adult volunteer with a buddy who shares similar experiences, personality and otherwise,” said Sara. “Receiving the confirmation email of my ‘Buddy-ness’ confirmed for me what I already knew: that I was supposed to be at this camp because I knew my energy matched the energy I got from Comfort Zone Camp training and, more personally, the Doyle family. Throughout the months leading up to camp, the entire Doyle family and their supporters enriched my life and have inspired me to enrich others.”
Since volunteering for her first camp in September of 2011, Sara has since become more involved with the Sheilah A Doyle. Sara is a liaison to community partnership programs such as the Mothers of Murdered Sons Mother’s Day Bruncheon and helps with Cheers for Change, the annual fundraiser event for the S.A.D Foundation.
Sara says, “I talk to community leaders across Chicago about what we can actually do for these children. Through our outreach with community members who share similar messages, we know that there is a debilitating and developmental effect on children who experience violence around them and the loss of their parent or sibling to homicide. It has been more than eye opening.”
So, what is it like to experience camp as a volunteer? She describes the before and after by saying, “We all walk in vulnerable and raw. We leave camp knowing something special just occurred and it is only the beginning of our journey. Even the 16-year-old high school junior counselor and my wise-beyond-her-years, ten-year-old Little Buddy brought a lifetime of knowledge with them and laid it out for us in a way only a child could bring to tragedy.” A homicide-related camp, she says, offers common ground and deeply rooted expectations that everyone will be accepted, regardless of where they are in their journey. “At camp, we automatically saw everyone as an equal - children and adults alike.”
Sarah describes camp as a group of people who have traveled down many different roads coming together to see what possible good can be had from their situations. “This is a rare commodity in the world!” she says. “You see a group of children and teens who have courageously opened themselves up to a possible experience of helping themselves by making this life-changing choice. This is how I believe we are setting the child up for success.”
She adds, “So many people carry their pain and suffering throughout their life and well into adulthood, never knowing the incredible power of taking care of yourself, talking, listening, therapy, expression, mental health and sharing burden. Through camp and other resources provided by the Sheilah A Doyle foundation, we have now begun setting these children up for success.”
For many people, it is not easy to ask for help. But for those who have experienced a loss due to homicide, this critical skill can be even more elusive. “These children now know to seek out enriching experiences that will help heal them and change their path,” says Sara. “These children now know that something like camp and caring people - who live in and out of their communities - exist. The greatest lesson that I saw these children leave camp with is that their present does not predict their future and everyone can choose exactly who they want to be, regardless of their surroundings.”
In reflecting about her work on behalf of the foundation, Sara thoughtfully says, “I have dedicated my career and beyond to non-profits and have been continuously crushed by the politics involved and the constant disparity all around. I am happy to find a family, community-based organization that shares the same values and love for what I do. The Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation exists solely to reach people in a positive way and change lives person by person.”
Strategic Partner: The Black Star Project
“Kids are just waiting for someone to allow them to speak about the violence around them. When you say, ‘Hey this is not o.k. or how are you feeling about this?’ … it is like they were holding their breath and are just ready to let it go.”
- Jami Becka, Program Director
The Blackstar Project
What is the goal of the Black Star Project?
We seek to improve the quality of life in the Black American and Latino communities of Chicago by eliminating the racial academic achievement gap. In so doing, many other quality-of-life gaps improve. We work to help preschool through college students succeed academically by providing educational services while supporting parents, families and communities to effectively provide educational supports for their children and students.
How do you think the S.A.D. Foundation relates to Chicago’s youth?
It’s a much-needed service in the community. We work with a lot of students who see violence. Recently, nine people were shot and killed in Chicago in one week. A lot of schools just go about their business after that. This is a detriment to the kids. When someone dies due to violence, we need to stop and say “this is not ok” and ask them how they are feeling about it and see what is going on with them. It’s a big deal. The kids in the schools have been desensitized to it. We do all kinds of mentoring with the kids, and it’s really horrible when kids die or family members die so often due to violence. No one recognizes what the kids are going through. It’s treated like they need to just go on, and that’s a huge disservice to the kids. I think it’s great what the S.A.D. Foundation is doing.
How did The Black Star Project start?
The Black Star Project began as a small mentoring program in two Chicago public schools in 1996. Today, we are an organization of 11 staff people serving 125 schools – public, private and charter schools. We have about 300 volunteers. We have gained national recognition for our innovative programs that engage and inspire students, parents and communities to improve educational outcomes.
What types of initiatives do you get behind?
The Black Star Project's multiple initiatives address parent development, student engagement and educational advocacy. For example, two programs are now in their fourteenth year. The Student Motivation Program provides classroom-based mentoring. The Barbara Ann Sizemore Communiversity for Educational Excellence is a series of community meetings to help close the academic achievement gap.
We helped start the Million Father March, inviting fathers to take their children to school on the first day. It’s now in 767 cities nationwide. Also, we started the Black Male Achievement Mentoring Initiative in January of 2013. Throughout the month, people are mentoring black males in 195 cities. We started it with the help of Susan Taylor, head of the national mentoring movement and the Open Society Foundation.
How did you connect with the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation?
The Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation contacted us in July of 2012 because we facilitate Chicago Congress of Parents, a resource program for parents. We have an e-blast that reaches about 50,000 and used it to send out information for S.A.D. volunteers and campers. They also helped us send out information about our Saturday University – a free tutoring program.
Does helping youth cope with loss lead to breaking the cycle of violence?
The S.A.D. Foundation is right on this. The only way that the violent cycle is broken is if kids can express what they are going through and recognize that violence is wrong. No one is giving a voice to kids’ feelings and the kids begin to normalize it. They can think of different life options for themselves if they stop to recognize that.
Did any of the students you work with attend the September 7-9, 2012 camp?
I know the foundation had interest from a few volunteers and several calls from families we serve. Going forward with our mentoring program, the foundation is something we will refer kids to more often. It is definitely on our radar now.
As you work with kids directly, are they hungry to share their story?
I go to the schools and see what is going on. They are hungry for that kind of attention. I liken it to a conspiracy because they all know how they feel and know what’s going on. The kids are just waiting for someone to allow them to speak about the violence around them. When you say, “Hey this is not o.k. or how are you feeling about this?” … it is like they were holding their breath and are just ready to let it go.
Spread the News
Black Star Project’s Saturday University
Free tutoring program throughout Chicago and suburban locations including
Westchester (in the offices of Senator Kimberly A. Lightford), Blue Island, Richton Park,
and South Bend Indiana.
- Serves 250+ people five years old to adults preparing for the GED.
- All sites are donated and accommodate small group sessions staffed by 70 volunteers.
- Covers math, reading and writing instruction.
- Call (773) 285-9600 to register or visit www.blackstarproject.org.
Meet Infinity and Benjanae
“A person who has lost someone from illness doesn’t have as many questions as when you lose someone by homicide. The majority of them can only be answered by the person who did it, but the camp helped me answer one or two of those questions like: does only things like this happen to me?”
- Infinity Ramey, age 13
- 13-year-old sisters
- Benjanae is in seventh grade and Infinity is in eighth grade
- Benjanae plays point guard on the school basketball team, likes to dance, and talk to friends
- Infinity plays volleyball, loves to read, and hang out with friends
- Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
- Attended the 2011 S.A.D. Foundation camp
- Both will attend the 2012 camp along with their cousin and brother
- Achievement … these young ladies have a positive outlook on life, achieve high grades in school, and are thoughtful individuals
When you talk with Infinity and Benjanae Ramey, you immediately sense a maturity far beyond their years. They definitely favor the same things most 13-year-olds enjoy – friends, sports, talking on the phone – but then there’s that wisdom that hovers above their words, a wisdom that comes from the theft of innocence. Their speech is far more intentional and thoughtful, like they’ve experienced something that rearranged their entire life forever. And they did … Infinity and Benjanae Ramey lost their father to gunfire.
Last October, the girls attended the 2011 S.A.D. Foundation’s camp held at Camp Manitoqua in Frankfort, Illinois. According to their grandmother, Donna Ramey, it was a turning point. “They were more in tune with themselves,” she says. “There was more positivity about themselves. Their egos and their self-image were more confident. When you’re in that situation, you think you’re the only one. Especially Benjanae, there was a big change. Her mother couldn’t take care of her so when her father was killed, she was even more alone in this world. Now, she’s a lot more vocal; her self-esteem came up.”
Benjanae sees the change in herself too. “I felt positive (from the camp). There are some people I didn’t talk to before. I can make friends better now. It’s easier. It makes me feel great because now I have more people to talk to.” In considering the camp and all the things she experienced, Benjanae cites the one thing that made the most difference to her. “Their enthusiasm,” she says. “My big buddy talked to me a lot. They did match us very well. We were both athletic and good and funny. Kristin was awesome – she was like another Big Buddy.”
“Camp was fun and productive. When I first came there I was really shy and quiet, but then I got out of my comfort zone.” It was hard for Benjanae to open up at first, but then her sister inspired her. “My sister was telling her story so I thought, well, I can do that too. Everybody was understanding, and we all experienced the same thing. It was all an understanding for all of us like people who have cancer,” she said.
Her favorite part of camp? “It was all of it,” she said. “We played basketball and went into the woods and did team work – a lot of moving and athletic things. I was tired at the end of the day. It was really fun. They welcomed you very well. They talked to you and they helped. They had good activities for all ages.” She says, with a matter-of-fact grin, that “the teens even had fun.” “We had a memorial service and we all told how we felt and what we did. The teens said they didn’t want to be there at first and at the end they were glad they came,” said Benjanae.
Infinity’s honest appraisal of the camp before and after echoes that of many campers. “I thought it was really fun. When I first went, I didn’t want to be there, but then everyone was welcoming me and encouraging me. The camp changed me. I was more aggressive after the tragedy, and now I’m a little less aggressive. I think that’s a positive change and there were some people who had even stopped talking to me because of how aggressive I was, and now they talk to me now.”
Infinity’s best memory of camp? “My favorite part was when we did the rock climbing,” she said, “because I really, really wanted to stop half way because I’m scared of heights, and there was a little thing I could sit down on, and I looked the rest of the way up and they said, ‘come on, you’re almost there.’ When I reached the top, I pressed the button and they were proud of me.”
So much of what happens at camp mirrors that of life, and Infinity took it all in. “I associated (the rock climbing with) what was going on at the time and to get over what I was so scared of at the time and that I could overcome it,” she said.
Camp organizers spend dozens of hours looking at the personalities and interests of campers and Big Buddys to find the most compatible match. “My big buddy was Sarah,” said Infinity. “We had a lot in common. She was into more girly type things than I am, but we both played volleyball. When I shared my story, she held my hand and made it a lot easier. She experienced a loss. If I was paired up with someone who hadn’t, I don’t think I could connect with that person as much.”
As Infinity anticipates high school, she encourages those grieving like her to attend the S.A.D. camp. “Come. At first you are going to be shy,” she said. “They have a way of getting you out of your shell and talk about things you don’t normally talk about so if you are hesitating, come. You will have a lot more fun than you thought you would.”
To Infinity, the S.A.D. Foundation is special in ways most people don’t think about it. She says, “I think the organization is cool because some people have organizations where you’ve lost a loved one, but this one is about people who lost a loved one to homicide. You can make more of a connection because a person who has lost someone from illness doesn’t have as many questions as when you lose someone by homicide. The majority of them can only be answered by the person who did it, but the camp helped me answer one or two of those questions like: does only things like this happen to me? I saw people who had the same or worse situations as I had.”
Going to camp opened up new possibilities for both young ladies. Since last October, they have started to attend Saturday events sponsored by the Daphne Dove Foundation. Recently, they and other children like them, released a crowd of red balloons in the air in honor of their loved ones. Connecting locally is a great initiative many campers explore after attending camp.
For Benjanae and Infinity, though, their eyes are also on the S.A.D. Foundation’s upcoming camp this September. Infinity says with a big sigh, “They are all really nice and I can’t wait to see all of them when I get back.”
Meet Amber Hunt
“Everything happens for a reason and every reason has a purpose.”
- 18 years old
- Freshman at Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois
- Major: Pre-nursing
- Hometown: Maywood, Illinois
- Attended the S.A.D. Foundation camp
- 2011 S.A.D. Foundation scholarship recipient
- Achievement … at 14 years old, founded the Purple Hearts dance group for girls ages six to 17 with public performances that included Bud Billiken parade on Chicago’s south side.
Ambur Hunt’s grandmother loved being a nurse. This impressed the 18-year-old graduate from Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy in Forest Park. One of two 2011 scholarship recipients of the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation, Ambur now studies pre-nursing at Western Illinois University.
Her career choice follows suit with Ambur’s compassion for others: She started the Purple Hearts dance group to get neighborhood girls off the street; took part in the Youth Encourages Success program in high school where she worked with high-risk youth; and, just prior to college, worked with a youth organization at Loyola Medical Center to help minimize gang activity in the Proviso Township area.
Ambur is testimony that from the midst of sorrow and tragedy a person has the power to take a stand for the greater good and make a difference.
At four years of age, Ambur lost her father Silas Hunt to homicide. As the years went on, Ambur says that she felt like she just needed to “get over it.” This changed after attending the S.A.D. Foundation camp in 2011. “The camp taught me that I’ll never get over it – the pain just doesn’t disappear like a cold. You have to live with it for the rest of your life. After awhile, the attention diminishes and you stop hearing that and you feel like maybe it’s time to stop crying and get on with it. You never completely heal,” said Ambur. And that, she learned, is a good thing.
She explains, “The camp gave me peace because there wasn’t any need to make sense of it and why I still cry about things. It’s been 13 years since my dad’s death and it gave me a reason to grieve.”
One of Ambur’s most poignant moments during camp came when she made the compass box. “The younger kids and older kids made nested boxes with notes of what you go through with whoever it is you lost. I wrote notes to my dad – in some kind of way he’s in that box. It’s cardboard and is decorated on the outside with a star. I remember when I was little, my mother would tell me that the brightest star in the sky is my dad. I love that box.”
Ambur says she valued the time with other people her age. “One big thing I got out of camp is that there are people like me who have gone through an incredible loss. Everybody at camp was in my group. All my friends have both their parents. There was a lot of time when I was younger when I was in it by myself. The best part was group sessions telling about their stories.”
Finding a healthy place for grief in her life prompts Ambur to offer this advice, “Keep going. I promise that how much you cry, the sun will come up tomorrow and a new day will start no matter what happens the day before. My mom would tell me: ‘You can’t give up.’ Talk to people who have been through it. My big buddy was an older person who had a similar experience and she said it’s hard, but count your blessings … she lost her mother and didn’t know her father. She said, ‘So, even though you don’t have your dad, you have your mom and others who love you.’ ”
To close, we defer to the first line of Ambur Hunt’s scholarship essay submitted to the S.A.D. Foundation: Everything happens for a reason and every reason has a purpose. We agree, Ambur.
Strategic Partner: Comfort Zone
An Interview with Pete Shrock, National Program Director, Comfort Zone Camp
Scrawled in black crayon on a white poster board were the words: Papa, I miss you very much. Have fun pouring out the rain. A large heart encircled the note. This is one of thousands of sentiments shared by youth ages 7 to 17 who attend Comfort Zone camps across the country each year. The Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation is proud to sponsor its annual camps in partnership with Comfort Zone.
The core values of each organization run parallel: helping kids heal and grow through a healthy approach to grieving. The following is an interview with Pete Shrock from Comfort Zone’s headquarters in Richmond, Virginia (comfortzonecamp.org)
What is Comfort Zone Camp?
Comfort Zone Camp is a bereavement camp that transforms the lives of children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling, or primary caregiver. The free camps mix traditional camp activities with confidence building programs, one-on-one mentoring, safe risk taking and age-based support groups that break the emotional isolation grief often brings. Comfort Zone is well beyond just a camp; it’s a philosophy of resilience for the more than 8,000 children served to date. We have 15,000 trained volunteers and 10 percent of our volunteers were campers.
What did you think about the S.A.D. Foundation’s Fall 2011 camp?
That weekend shaped the minds for tomorrow’s leaders. These two programs truly collaborated for the betterment of community. It’s a vulnerable population. These two missions, two passions collided … and now you will see the ripple effects for years to come.
How did you and the S.A.D. Foundation find each other?
Comfort Zone has served kids throughout Chicago for 10 years. We offer travel scholarships nationwide. We received a phone call from Kevin Doyle with interest in a camp for children in the Chicago area; it was like a match made in heaven. We saw that Kevin wanted to make a difference. With our missions put together, we created a platform for kids struggling with a death of a parent by homicide. Our program provides critical self-esteem for success.
Why is the age group for S.A.D. Foundation campers so important?
We chose seven to 17 years old, a time when youth transitions to young adult. It’s a key time for our services and help. That transition is really important because most services stop at 18, but emotional functioning and cognitive skills don’t -- so during the largest transition of your life, there’s a tremendous need, a lot of hurdles, a lot of struggles.
The impact of a traumatic loss stunts your life skills and creates struggles with trusting, opening up, positive risk-taking – crucial skills to be a successful, healthy adult. There’s a need for support and encouragement, and it is tremendous.
What are your thoughts about the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation?
You’re looking at two nonprofits built out of a place of emptiness. When you live through something and you can use that to use momentum to help others - that’s a powerful mission. Both (organizations) are like “because something bad happened to me doesn’t mean my life has to be bad.”
Comfort Zone and S.A.D. created hope out of something negative. The kids we help will learn that message too. When you look at a child that has had an opportunity to gain perspective and get a view on their life, it allows them to have power. They say “I can create change.” And they want to immediately give it to someone else. Without it, suicide, depression, substance abuse, negative coping skills, lack of trust and all those things (can happen) … a lifetime of thinking and feeling that is very different than a lifetime (of positive living).
How did Comfort Zone start?
Comfort Zone started when a nine-year old lost her mother. By 12, she had lost her father. She grew up going to summer camp and it was the only time she felt at peace and connected. She took her loss in life and founded Comfort Zone. It’s the ripple effect you want to see happen.
How can a person make a difference in the life of a grieving child?
Become familiar with organizations so you can recommend them to someone or volunteer. Learn about it before it impacts you personally. We as a society need to be more intentional and find out how you can have a direct impact on this. It’s a simple suggestion – a willingness not to have to fix something, but be present and actively listen; it’s one of the most powerful tools. Kids always say what they miss the most are the conversations, the opportunities to talk, and our program is so successful because we allow them to tell the story in their voice and to tell the truth. No judgement, just listening.
Is there any online help you recommend?
A great resource is www.hellogrief.com, a social media resource for the professional, family member, child, anyone who is affected by grief. Members can create personal profiles, a memory wall in honor of their loved one, and get advice on a variety of topics related to grief.
Working with bereavement, we see what the nation is struggling with: deaths by cancer, heart-related illnesses, in-the-line-of-duty, suicide, homicide, father-losses. How will this affect this generation?
Meet Josh Cooper
“When I was younger, I kept it in. I would make up a story about what happened. But it’s easier when others know the real story … because your story makes you who you are.”
- 18 years old
- Freshman at Clarke University, DuBuque, Iowa
- Double Major: Communications and Psychology
- Hometown: Loves Park, Illinois
- Attended the first ever camp sponsored by the S.A.D. Foundation
- 2011 S.A.D. Foundation scholarship recipient
- Dream … to become a psychologist specialized in helping children of murdered parents cope and heal
Josh Cooper bats for the Crusader’s baseball team at Clarke University. But unlike fellow teammates, the 18-year-old freshman’s personal crusade reaches far beyond the field. He aims to become a psychologist, specializing in helping children of murdered parents cope and heal. After attending the first camp sponsored by the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation (S.A.D.), he says the organization helped him identify his career choice. And that was only the start.
“Without them knowing it, they (the foundation) are the ones who helped push me to want to help kids of murdered parents. If I wasn’t a part of them, I wouldn’t have realized that so early,” said Josh. He says that sharing his story, alongside other campers, broke a lifelong silence about the events that led to his father’s death which involved drugs and violence. “I told my story at camp and told what I wanted to do. Everyone was behind me. It made me feel that I could do things in life and not worry. I can tell my story to anybody now and not be judged. I was worried about people judging me a lot throughout my life,” he says.
Josh attended S.A.D.’s camp in late September. Already a keen observer of life, the future psychologist made some observations. “The younger kids walked away with stability knowing that people care about them,” said Josh. “But the camp really hit the older kids. We were able to take in more of the emotional side. I was talking with the other teens my age about it. I felt complete inside that I could tell complete strangers my story. People actually cared about what happened.”
The most poignant part of the camp for Josh was the bonfire. He explains, “There was a part in the camp where we all stood around and wrote a note to our loved ones and then dropped it into the fire and the fire got bigger and then it subsided. To me, I felt like I was there with my dad again and I could feel his presence and I broke down crying. It just brought me to a different level of emotion that is really hard to explain.”
Josh’s mom, Kristie Bader, found S.A.D. by accident. As she was searching the Internet one day for scholarship opportunities for her son, she happened to come across S.A.D.’s website. After talking to Josh about the organization, he then rallied fellow club members of DECA, a student business group at his high school that periodically chose charitable organizations to support. One presentation later and they unanimously voted to raise money during their DECA Week fundraiser held during lunch at school. “I had to make a speech why we should choose the S.A.D. Foundation, and they all wanted to do it with me,” said Josh.
More than anything else, Josh encourages people to volunteer for S.A.D. “If they ever get an opportunity to sit down and talk with people in my and Kevin’s situation, they should take that time and listen because all those volunteers at the camp walked away speechless and it changed them even more than us,” comments Josh. “We have learned to deal with the situation that has been put in front of us over the years and the volunteers haven’t so they came away fully changed with a different perspective on life.”
He adds that the foundation is truly changing lives. “They’re helping kids with murdered parents. And they are helping society by teaching kids to realize that drug, violence and gang affiliations aren’t right,” said Josh.
Strategic Partner: Purpose Over Pain - An Interview with Annette Holt, Director of Purpose Over Pain
When Annette Holt lost her only son to gun violence, she had a choice: embrace bitterness or be an agent for change. She chose to make a difference. Purpose Over Pain was launched in 2007 to give hope and support to people like herself. The group’s mantra: “While violence chose us without notice, we consciously choose to band together and turn our profound and collective pain into a sense of purpose to prevent future violence.” The following is an interview with Annette about Purpose Over Pain, a strategic partner instrumental in helping the S.A.D. Foundation raise awareness.
What is Purpose Over Pain?
Our mission is to end gun violence OVER living with the pain. We want to move the public conversation from the sensational of "what” happened to a more productive dialogue of "how" the community can actively care and find solutions.
What do you do?
We go out to schools and community groups to encourage parents to be an active part in their children’s life because if they aren’t, others will take that place and influence their children. There’s a lot of pressure on these young people. There are too many funerals, Teddy Bear memorials and friend’s faces on pictures --- we’re trying to change that. We also promote violence prevention educational programs for at-risk youth and promote a safe environment by advocating common-sense gun laws.
What did you think about the S.A.D. Foundation’s recent camp?
We thought it was great that they (the Doyle family) would take the time to honor their mother’s life by helping kids out. They are wonderful young people. I know their mother is so proud of them because they have the spirit to reach out. They could have chosen to be bitter and feel self-pity, but they are like us – reaching out to help others and in the process healing themselves. Nobody can understand how this feels unless you’ve gone through it. There is nothing on this earth that can replace my son. It’s painful every day, but to just know that there are other people who understand helps. Your heart hurts so much, like you’re having a heart attack … no, your heart is broken. That’s how I feel. That’s how we all feel.
What was your “aha” moment while you were there?
To see all those young people who had lost siblings and parents open up and to see them joyful, smiling and playing games – the things we take for granted every day. They gave from their hearts. It took courage to stand up and open up. I was blessed to be there. When you are around people who are like you, you can live again, you can make it. This was a snapshot for the world – Hispanic, white, African American, Asian, different social classes, all together. If the world looked like that, we wouldn’t have this violence. I want the day to come when we don’t have to have S.A.D. or Purpose Over Pain.
Are there any upcoming events you would like people to know about?
On Mother’s Day in 2012, we’ll be putting the killing of children with guns in the national spotlight. It’s one of the hardest days of the year when you’ve lost a child.
Any parting thoughts?
We’ve all lost our children so what greater gift can we give them but to help others.
For more information, visit www.purposeoverpain.org or email Annette at firstname.lastname@example.org.