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Over this past weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in Camp Erin-Philadelphia 2011.

Camp Erin is an initiative led by former Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer and his wife Karen, Camp Erin photo: www.valleyoflife.comwho serves as Vice President and co-founder of The Moyer Foundation, which began in 2000 and is a non-profit organization aimed at helping children in distress.

Camp Erin, which specifically aims itself toward providing support for children and teens ages 6-17 who have experienced the death of someone close to them, is the largest network of such bereavement camps in the nation, with more than 40 camps in 25 states.

The camp was created by The Moyer Foundation as an honor to the wish of a young woman named Erin Metcalf, from Woodinville, Washington.

Erin had developed liver cancer at the age of 15 and unfortunately lost her battle at age 17 in 2000. The camp is named after this extraordinary young woman who showed the care and compassion that has become the driving force behind an initiative that continues to serve many in need of love and support in times of grief.

Camp Erin-Philadelphia functions in partnership with Penn Home Care and Hospice Services- Wissahickon Hospice. Under the direction of Elise Gaul, the camp provides a fun and caring environment through which the children can build new friendships and trust. The ultimate goal of the camp is to provide a safe setting where the children can be educated about grief and feel connected to other children with similar life experiences.

In addition, Camp Erin Philadelphia succeeds further through a strong partnership with Diamond Ridge Camps in Jamison, Pennsylvania. The camp site itself is a beautiful, well maintained landscape equipped with an arts center, basketball courts, tennis courts, a pool, and Ga Ga ball courts.

What is Ga Ga ball, you ask? Well, it is a loose variation on traditional dodge ball. I had never heard of it up until my Camp Erin experience, but I can now definitively tell you this: kids LOVE Ga Ga ball.

The weekend, which began on Friday evening and ended on Sunday morning, was filled with fun and activities. These activities ranged from adventure to arts and crafts, including various elements of sports, music, and performance routines. Additionally, there were activities that presented an opportunity to focus on the true meaning of the camp and provided an environment with which the children could express themselves and reveal a bit about their experiences.

My assignment for the weekend was to be a cabin buddy to a group of nine and ten year old boys. Essentially, my role was that of a camp counselor. I was there to greet the campers and their families, help facilitate activities, and guide these children through the Camp Erin experience. Oh, and also to make sure they are safe and accounted for at all times! Although mildly challenging and exhausting at times, the experience of spending an entire weekend with these eight children, building relationships and helping them connect with the other children was quite rewarding.

Having lost both my parents as a teenager, I came into this experience with a drive and a passion to help out children who may be feeling a similar loss that I did in my youth. I realized the value of the type of support this camp provides. Camp Erin did not exist in the mid-nineties when I felt my most significant loss, and I am thrilled to have become a part of the group that perpetuates its existence.

I firmly believe it is the collaboration between the camp volunteers and all the wonderful aforementioned organizations that catapult this experience to another level altogether. The team of volunteers was a virtual melting pot of people with one thing in common: a purpose. The camp volunteers may not have all shared the same age, gender, creed, or profession, but we all shared a belief in providing a safe environment for children to recover from personal loss and tragedy. The amount of time, patience, detail, and care that was put into this weekend, not only by the coordinators, but every single person involved was startling and amazing. It was an incredible display of teamwork and camaraderie.

Furthermore, in my own estimation, what really put this camp experience over the top was the presence of many special guests, including Erin’s grandmother, aunt, and cousin who very willingly gave their time and shared their own personal perspective about Erin, creating an even deeper sense of emotion throughout the experience.

In addition, Karen Moyer was present and graciously spoke to the children, providing a great deal of comfort and support. Philadelphia Eagles long-snapper Jon Dorenbos  also appeared, along with his wife Julie, to perform some entertainment in the form of magic tricks, but more importantly to express an intense and influential message about his own similar life experiences. Based on my interaction with the young boys, I think I can safely say that Jon’s message reached deeply to the children and was certainly a highlight of the weekend in many ways.

The weekend a spectrum of emotion filled with dancing and consoling, mourning and befriending, tears of sadness and tears of joy. Most of all though, there was an overall sense of connection. Personally, the icing on the cake was seeing the children’s transformation from caution and nerves on Friday to enthusiasm and joy on Sunday. Mission accomplished.

Before this weekend, I knew I believed in the purpose and message of Camp Erin. I was touched by the cause and benefit of such a dynamic and constructive program. I recognized an opportunity to use my own experiences as a backdrop to help others, and I am thrilled that I could become a tiny, tiny cog in this magnificent machine.

I believe that Erin is truly an angel. She continues to smile upon the people she observed to be in need of support and care. It is the heart of such a special person that inspires great people like Jamie and Karen Moyer, and all those involved with this ongoing initiative, to carry on that kindhearted wish.

I am grateful and honored to have carried out a small part of her wish.

Thank you, Erin.

To learn more, you can also visit the David Bradley Children's Bereavement Program website, part of Penn Wissahickon Hospice.

Contact Ryan Downs at rdowns@philly2philly.com