OneFamily’s Youth Division helps bereaved children by forging relationships between them and their volunteer counselors. The counselors make regular visits to their homes, particularly on their birthdays and the anniversary of the death of their family members. They also speak on the phone weekly.
The relationship is deepened throughout the year at OneFamily events. The pinnacle of which is Summer Camp, where the counselors spend a week with the campers, bonding and providing emotional support.
That’s why the 300 campers and 60 counselors look forward to the start of camp all summer. If they are under the weather when camp is due to begin, one camper said, they’ll do whatever they need to do to feel better so they can be at camp.
At OneFamily Camp, children who have lost siblings or parents to terror do not need to stifle their feelings, as they often do in their everyday lives. They are free to be themselves with others who are struggling with the same challenges.
Twelve-year-old Talia said that OneFamily is a place where she can speak openly about her family’s struggles coping with the loss of two siblings who were killed before she was born. She’s been attending camp since she was in first grade.
“Next year, I’m moving to middle school. A new place with new people. I always find it hard when people ask me “How many siblings do you have?” she said.
“I’m always afraid to answer that I have four siblings, but that’s what I really want say. I do not know how to tell them that I have two siblings who are living and a brother and sister who are dead but that their souls accompanies me everywhere I go. I do not want people to pity me or think about me differently. I just want them to know and to understand the reality which I have grown up in.”
At OneFamily Camp, she said, “we all have something in common and we all deal with similar things. I found it so much easier to talk and share with my friends here than my friends at school.”
That common ground makes it easier for the kids to make friends, and to feel at ease in their own skin. It is also an essential element in their healing process. By being with others who have experienced the same type of trauma and hearing their stories and struggles, the kids recognize that they are not alone with their pain and can allow themselves to process their loss rather than suppress it.
Six Days of Fun and Friendship
The OneFamily Camp is essentially a therapeutic experience that also includes a breathtaking amount of fun. In addition to circle time and trust-building activities, the kids get to swim, kayak, and go rafting, play sports and do arts and crafts. They have evening activities that help them bond, and special outings, including a chance to ride on the back of motorcycles, play laser tag, ice skate, and go bowling.
This year, the campers were treated to a special music workshop with musician Tal Ramon, the son of the astronaut Ilan Ramon. Tal lost his father in 2003, a few weeks before his bar mitzvah. In 2009, his brother Assaf, a noted pilot with the Israeli Air Force, was killed in a training accident. His loss made it easy for him to relate to the campers, who responded enthusiastically to his music.
Equally important to the experience, however, is the chance to form friendships with other bereaved children. The trust that develops between them over the course of the week makes it possible for the kids to open up and overcome their reluctance to share what they experienced.
At the gala closing ceremony, eight year old Naama Frankael, whose brother Naftali was one of three boys kidnapped and killed in 2014, told the camp about how her friendships with other campers made it easier to talk about her experience.
“At camp, one of the important activities we did was talk about what we dream about,” she said. “I wanted to talk about my dream that Naftali comes back, but I was really shy. I told them that I had a dream but I do not want to tell it. Today, now that I have become closer with the girls in my group I have told them about it and I am no longer shy.”
She also spoke about the bond that forms between campers and counselors. “OneFamily counselors are like father and mother as well as friends, when I’m sad they come and sit next to me and talk to me. They share my sadness with me but they do not cry. It helps me. It strengthens me,” she said.
Ayala, 9, has been a member of OneFamily since first grade. Her father was killed when she was 2 years old. She said the relationship she’s built with her counselor makes the camp experience much more enjoyable.
“I love my time in OneFamily,” she said. “When counselors come to my house, we cook together or hikes together. We dance and laugh. They spend time with me at home and make me happy. They become friends with the whole family, and when they visit, we all sit together as a family, but also have time to be alone.”