Volunteering at Camp Erin Pittsburgh a Life-Changing Experience

When people look for volunteer opportunities, there are a lot of questions we ask ourselves. Will I make a difference? Will I keep busy? Will I meet new people and feel like a part of a community? Will I experience personal growth? Will I have fun? Will I impress my mom?

You get the idea.

Rarely do we come across a volunteer opportunity that answers yes to all of those questions – luckily, Camp Erin® Pittsburgh does just that.

Camp Erin Pittsburgh is a three-day, overnight bereavement camp for children and teens who have lost a loved one. The camp, a partnership between Good Samaritan Hospice, The Moyer Foundation and YMCA Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer, pairs traditional summer camp activities with grief education and peer support.

Heather Leatherman lives in New Castle and has been volunteering at the Camp since 2012. She said when she explains to people what Camp Erin is, their initial reaction is often a head shake, followed by a comment about how they could never do something so sad. She sees it MUCH differently, though.

“Although there are some sad moments, Camp Erin is amazing,” Heather said. “It is full of laughter and fun and learning. When you volunteer here you not only make a difference in the life of a child, but they make an incredible difference on you.”

“You will never regret being part of Camp Erin.”

Saxonburg resident Elsa Mauritz couldn’t agree more. Elsa, who works at Concordia as a Deaconess, has volunteered at the Camp for three years. She was drawn to the opportunity for a number of reasons, including being outdoors and remembering the feelings of losing her grandmother at a young age.

“I wasn’t hungry, felt like I was in a fog and didn’t really enjoy life much for a while,” Elsa said. “I can’t imagine what a child who loses a parent or sibling would go through, but I’m sure it would be much more severe than what I experienced. If I can be there to support and encourage these kids, I jump at the chance because I believe that this is what God calls every Christian to do.”

It’s not only those who are “warm and fuzzy” who make great Camp Erin volunteers, however. Joe Afflerbach is a teacher who lives in Baden. He wasn’t sure how his personality would work in an environment like Camp Erin, or if he was prepared to deal with what he thought would be a weekend of sorrow. Judging by the fact that he’s volunteered at the Camp for seven straight years now, he clearly fit like a glove.

“I am trained as an engineer,” Joe said. “I have a very analytical mind. ‘Feelings’ and ‘emotions’ are not my forte. I have no special skills, as it relates to volunteering at Camp Erin. I simply come to listen, encourage and guide… Some of these kids have not had a safe place to talk. I like being that safe place.”

Heather summed up her experience with a story from last year’s camp:

“I was in a group of five Big Buddies and seven nine-year-old girls. Our girls were divas all the way. One girl in particular was very bitter and shut off. She made it very clear that she did not want to be at camp, and although she participated in all the activities, it seemed like we were not able to help or get through to her. Then we did a grief activity that changed everything. The children were asked to use clay and make something that reminded them of their special person. We big buddies participated as well. I made a little plaque to have our cabin all sign as a memory for myself of Camp Erin. The last morning at breakfast all the campers and buddies signed my plaque. Before going to the final activity this camper asked if she could see the plaque again and she had the marker in her hand. I had no clue what she was going to do when I gave her the plaque. On the plaque she wrote, ‘I will miss you.’ With tears in my eyes I showed the other buddies from my group and said, ‘We were able to touch her heart after all.’ This camper may not have understood how helpful that weekend was for her at the time, but I believe she’ll look back later in life and realize that Camp Erin did her a bundle of good.”

Camp Erin Pittsburgh will be held June 12-14, 2015 at YMCA Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer, 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. Camp registration is free thanks to generous support from businesses, foundations and individuals. Volunteers, specifically “Big Buddies” who can spend the whole weekend chaperoning campers, are needed.

For more information or to volunteer, contact Camp Director Heather Beachler by phone at 724-933-8888, by e-mail, or use the contact form on the Good Samaritan Hospice website.

If interested in sponsorship opportunities, call the Concordia Development Office at 724-352-1571, ext. 8363.

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