One Last Hug: Three Days at Grief CampOne Last Hug: Three Days at Grief Camp

Interview with Moyer Foundation and Camp Erin founders Karen and Jamie Moyer

What led to the launch of the Moyer Foundation?

KAREN MOYER: We started a foundation because we wanted to make an immediate impact on children who were in any type of distress. Along the way we educated ourselves on children and all kinds of distress, and we became experts on grief and addiction.

JAMIE MOYER: As a baseball player, Karen and I were always involved with giving back to the community. We just felt that we weren’t doing enough, so we created our own foundation to build on top of what we’ve always done with my employers. We just felt like we could do more and make a bigger impact. As we grew, we were involved with a grief camp in South Bend, Indiana, and we really saw the value of that.

How did Camp Erin begin?

KAREN MOYER: The Erin story happens because we meet a girl through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, because Jamie is a professional athlete, and we decide to think about her sisters because we know she’s not going to make it. We’re able to create this camp to help people like Erin’s sisters and others who grieve a loss.

JAMIE MOYER: We asked Erin’s family to use her name on the camp. Then we started the camp, and we saw the value of the camp -- how it can help children who are grieving a loss.

KAREN MOYER: We expanded on that and took it through the United States through a map of all Major League Baseball cities and more. Now it’s keeping those camps going, reacting to a need -- like being able to open a camp in Newtown, Connecticut. Or being able to go down to Oklahoma, where there are a lot of natural disasters, or to a desolate, middle-of-the-country state like Nebraska or New Orleans, wherever there’s need. More than 1.5 million kids are grieving a loss, so there’s a lot of work to be done.

JAMIE MOYER: We’ve come to realize a lot of things through this camp. But we realized that sometimes children don’t have a voice. We’re trying to educate society on this matter, as well as reaching out to kids who need these services. As we’ve gotten involved, we’ve come to realize there are more than 1.5 million kids in our country from the ages of 6 t 17 that are dealing with a loss. Our goal here has been to create camps. We came up with the idea of putting one in every Major League Baseball city, which is kind of our niche with me being a baseball player.

How did the documentary come together?

KAREN MOYER: We didn’t do this documentary, and I think that’s what makes this pretty incredible. I actually fought the documentary because I want to protect these kids and I didn’t want to exploit them at all. The film has no Hollywood ending. The story goes that there was a producer in LA who actually had a personal story of losing his dad when he was younger. He wanted to do something on children’s bereavement, and here we have this documentary. It offers so much. We can use it to educate our counselors across the country, we can take it to donors. This is a free camp, it’s important for us to continually serve the kids we do and to serve more. It can be obviously used in a situation where we just need to open up the conversation, where we can give it a voice.

JAMIE MOYER: We felt like this could be some good exposure for the camp and a great way to educate people at the same time, while still helping kids. Ultimately, that’s our goal -- to help kids.

Did you have any reservations about letting cameras into Camp Erin?

KAREN MOYER: For sure, because you’re following them for the three days of camp, and then they went back to them after six months. But there’s a lot of ways to slice this. They have hours of tape and lots of stories from kids, but I think what’s important is to just recognize that each and every story is very real.

JAMIE MOYER: First of all, you have to get permission from the children and their families. What we’re doing is we’re taking these kids’ unfortunate situations and showing the public that there are kids out there that could use their help.

Do you think many people know about childhood grief?

KAREN MOYER: Honestly, any time when there’s loss, people say the wrong thing, they don’t know what kind of friend to be. There’s lot of lessons that can be learned here and tools that can help you in the next situation because it’s inevitable. Death is very real. Adults typically suppress their feelings about death because that’s what earlier generations did. Our generation, this next generation, has to be different. We’re helping people live on and live well. This camp is a great tool to support that.

JAMIE MOYER: Childhood grief is overlooked sometimes and not by choice -- you just don’t think about it. Adults have the ability to seek out help, but imagine being 9 years old and losing someone very close to you in your life. Where do you go? Who do you go to? I hope that people start to understand what childhood grief is about. I don’t expect them to completely understand it, but hopefully they’ve got a little bit of education from this. I would also help that if they would know of anyone who could use the Moyer Foundation or Camp Erin that they would connect them with us.

Anything you want to add?

KAREN MOYER: Certainly, as the founder of the Moyer Foundation, I’m always knocking on doors for funding. I think it’s very important for people to know that it’s a free camp, and it costs $500 to send a kid to camp, and we can’t do it without time, talent, and a treasurer. We’re always looking for donations [link:]. We plan to sustain this for a very, very long time and continue to open camps in communities all over the country.