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"This isn't a sad foundation, this is an awesome foundation," Founder Melissa Wandall said at the fundraiser held Friday, Nov. 6. "I was a kid in grief. I get the sense that it's too sad, people don't want to hear about (the foundation)."
East County Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015 2 years ago

Mark Wandall Foundation raises funds for Comfort Zone Camp

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After a successful one day camp in October, founder Melissa Wandall aims for three days in 2016.
by: Jessica Salmond Staff Writer

After Kim Miele’s husband, Mike, died in July 2014, her son Jake stopped participating in childhood activities.

As Miele worked through her own stages of grief — “A widow at 43? I couldn’t wrap my head around that” — she saw Jake retreating. He didn’t want to go to Cub Scouts or games anymore, because he was the only one who didn’t have a

dad.

On Oct. 24, Bradenton's Miele convinced her son to attend the Comfort Zone Camp held by the Mark Wandall Foundation.

“He didn’t want to go, he was afraid to talk about it,” Miele said.

At the end of the one-day camp, Jake was feeling better than he had in months.

The camp connects kids who have lost a sibling, parent or caregiver, allowing them to find other peers who have had similar experiences.

Miele, who is also a member of the foundation board, said Jake instantly connected with another boy at the camp, Austin.

“He told me, 'Austin gets why I don’t want to go to Dads Make a Difference Day at school,'” she said.

After such a successful response from children, parents and volunteers alike, founder and Tara resident Melissa Wandall is setting her sight on a three-day camp in 2016.

Wandall lost her older sister when she was 11, and then her husband Mark in 2003.

As a child experiencing grief, Wandall remembers trying to keep her feelings inside because she didn’t want to burden her parents more.

“I was worried about them. I didn’t want to bother them with how scared and isolated I felt,” she said.

Wandall felt alone because none of her peers could relate to what she was going through.

Having experienced grief from a relative's death both as a child and adult, Wandall realized no resources were available in the area to help her and her daughter communicate about what had happened. In honor of her husband, who was killed by a motorist running a red light, she started the Mark Wandall Foundation to facilitate support for children in grief.

It five years to gain enough support to hold the first Comfort Zone Camp and she wonders if people don’t want to hear about children in grief because it’s too sad.

“We’re not a sad organization, we’re an awesome organization,” she said.

The nonprofit focuses both on teaching families how to speak about grief, but also how to move ahead in life in a positive way.

“We create the space and we have a happy, loving environment,” she said. “It’s okay to be angry, sad, cry about it, but you can’t get caught in it.”

The reaction she’s gotten only proves her point about people and talking about grief. No one wants to open up about it, but it’s an important part of the healing process to express feelings about such a life-changing event.

The camp helps connect children and families with shared experiences. Although part of the camp allows for a time to share grief and talk about being sad or angry, it also focuses on providing a safe and comforting environment for children to feel OK about being happy, too.

“The games they play are designed to get them thinking, sharing and being able to do something else besides sit there and think about their loss,” Wandall said.

The foundation held its annual fundraiser celebration Friday, Nov. 6, with a kick-off at Gold Coast Eagle Distributing and Saturday, Nov. 7, with a golf tournament at Legacy Golf Club. The funds will help facilitate a longer camp in 2016. But between now and then, Wandall is hoping to organize a fun monthly social event for kids and their families to keep them connected throughout the year.

“We teach the kids, yes this is grief and it hurts, but let’s talk about it, but lets not think about all that loss, think about all that love,” she said.

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