After 5 days of camp, friends and family joined 80 campers for their grand finale performance for Grief Expressions Summer Camp. Grief Expressions Summer Camp brings together 1st– 8th graders from throughout New Jersey who have experienced the death of someone important in their life. Isolation and loneliness are some of the most common effects of grief, and research shows that without support, grief directly impacts a child’s overall health and wellbeing. By bringing together children and teens with similar experiences, the camp created a community of kids who could understand and support one another.
The final exhibition and performance was held in memory of 13-year-old Santiago Daniel Abut (Santi), who died 11 years ago. “We are proud to be here with you today.” said The Santiago Abut Foundation’s founder and Santi’s dad, Daniel Abut. “Santi loved the arts. He was as kind and generous a kid as you could ever meet; he always wanted to help others.”
The Abut family enrolled in Good Grief’s peer support programs in 2008, right after suffering a most unimaginable and devastating loss. Good Grief’s mission is to provide unlimited and free support to children, teens, young adults, and families after the death of a mother, father, sister or brother, through peer support programs, education, and advocacy. “One of the best things we did early on despite the tragedy and our grief- was to join Good Grief. It was a lifesaver” reflected Mr. Abut. “At Good Grief we found a family; we found a group of people that spoke our language. Through Good Grief’s programs, we could speak freely about Santi our grief, and we could regain hope.”
Within a year of Santi’s death, the Abut family established a private foundation (which they fully fund) to keep their precious little boy’s memory alive. The Santiago Abut Foundation’s mission is to help finance worthy projects in the arts, education, and grief support services, in loving memory of Santi. One such project is Good Grief’s 2019 Grief Expressions Summer Camp. The Santiago Abut Foundation considered this program, and its partnership with Good Grief, a perfect fit, meeting two of its key priorities at once: helping grieving kids, and doing so by using the arts as a vehicle for exploration and expression.
Grief Expressions Summer Camp’s diverse activities were made possible by the community’s efforts to support grieving kids. Through local partnerships, campers were able to participate in art, music, writing, photography, and drama. Through the arts, kids were able to develop their sense of self and build the necessary skills to express their feelings. “I always have this picture in my brain, of when I came downstairs and my dad was looking out the window,” said 7-year-old camper, Jenny. “I like thinking about that picture and at camp I got to draw it and talk about it. Coming to camp helps when I feel sad. I get to meet friends and do fun activities. I don’t have all that at home and at school.”
This feeling of comfort and connection permeated the final camp performance, as all campers and most guests had experienced the loss of a loved one. Their grief was accompanied by a learned empathy and a sense of deep appreciation. “With the right support and enough time, all of us grieving the loss of a family member are eventually able to come out of the experience stronger, resilient, and most appreciative of the best things that life can offer,” Mr. Abut said to the campers and the audience. “Your priorities change, you become more aware of what is really important in life and what is not. And precisely because you now understand- more than ever before- how precious and fragile life is, you commit to live with purpose, to make every day count, and to give back and help others in need, which, in a virtuous cycle, helps you as well.”
If you are interested in learning more about Grief Expressions Summer Camp or in becoming a partner please contact Melissa Parrish at Melissa@good-grief.org, or 908.522.1999 x8003.