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Providing Comfort to Kids in Need

July 07, 2014

Alison Yeardley was 23 when her father died, and while she met plenty of people who had gone through a similar experience, there was one problem: none of them were her age and none had lost their fathers so young.

  • A teacher poses in life jackets with a group of students

“I felt very much like I wasn’t in that club, I felt very isolated,” said Yeardley. “But then I traveled and I met people my age who had lost a parent or a sibling, and that moment you meet someone who has had the same experience, you realize you’re not alone at that point.”

Now, Yeardley, a Year 5 teacher at the British International School of Boston, spends at least two weekends a year helping local children find that same feeling of belonging amidst lost, working as a “big buddy” and Volunteer Council member with the national organization Comfort Zone Camp.

Comfort Zone Camp is a nonprofit bereavement camp that works to transform the lives of children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. Their free camps, held in Massachusetts and at other locations around the world, include confidence-building programs and age-based support groups to help break the emotional isolation grief often brings.

For Yeardley, volunteering with the camp has been a chance to help young people find the community she was looking for after the loss of her father.

“The kids tell their stories and you can see these connections being made, as they realize they are with other kids who have had the same experiences,” she said. “I can see the looks on the kids' faces and I know that look, because I’ve felt it myself…It’s hard, but no matter how hard it is, the amazing positives you get out of it far outweigh any sadness that is felt.”

Yeardley’s involvement with Comfort Zone Camp began in 2009. Soon after visiting Cape Cod’s Camp Burgess with her British International School of Boston class- bringing back memories of her time working at a summer camp- her friend told her about the local organization.

All it took was one look at the camp’s website, Yeardley said, to know this was the volunteer work for her.

“After my first training session I said, ‘You’ve got me for life’,” she said. “I’ll take it back to England with me if I have to. If I did ever move, I would have to move to a place that did Comfort Zone Camps, or that had something like it. I hope to be involved with it forever.”

Five years later, Yeardley still volunteers at least two weekends a year at the free local camps, where attendees are paired up with a “big buddy,” like Yeardley, to help them through the healing process. Campers participate in typical camp activities like boating and arts, while also participating in group healing sessions with a trained therapist.

As part of her work work with the organization's Volunteer Council, Yeardley has helped organize fundraisers and volunteer training sessions, including one held at the British International School of Boston last school year.

Yeardley said the school has always been supportive of her work with the organization, and that her work as a teacher has helped her when getting to know campers and relating to their experiences.

Her work with the camp, too, has informed her role as a teacher, helping her talk with students who may have experienced loss and making her a strong role model for students interested in getting involved in volunteer work.

But what makes Yeardley so passionate about the camp? That is a question she answers very simply.

“It’s the single best thing I do in my life,” she said.