ACTON, Maine — A group of four women is running the Boston Marathon on Monday to raise money for a camp in Maine that helps kids process the grief of losing a loved one to suicide.
Camp Kita is a weeklong camp that welcomes kids ages 8-17 from all over the country. In the past, leaders have held the camp in the towns of Livermore, Poland, and Rome. The camp is moving to a permanent location in Acton by summer of 2023.
To help kids attend 2022's camp for free, four women are fundraising $10,000 each. Casey Morrison, Meg Downey, and Jessica Mendes are volunteer fundraisers. Camp Kita asked, and they answered. Stacey Jenkins is a group leader at the camp and a board member.
"I think it's one of the greatest things I've ever done," Jenkins said of volunteering for Camp Kita.
At camp, kids participate in different types of therapies as part of their group amid the backdrop of traditional camp activities.
"Seeing the kids be nervous when they first get there and then all of a sudden, a couple hours into camp, you watch them relax into the experience and know that they're safe," Jenkins said. "They can go through something incredibly difficult and find a space during camp week where they feel like they don't have to explain themselves."
Downey is a therapist who works with adults and kids who have lost loved ones to suicide. She said Camp Kita is a critical resource for kids dealing with this type of grief.
"Especially for kids, it's such a big part of survivors' lives and a lot of times they don't have the right avenues to speak about it," Downey said. "This is one of their biggest avenues where they are processing these feelings. A lot of these kids are not in ongoing therapy, but they're coming here, and this is where they're finding their outlet."
Jenkins, also a therapist, who works in Brunswick, lost a close friend to suicide.
"Feeling all the feelings of, 'Didn't I know? Why wouldn't I? I'm a therapist, I should have sensed that she was struggling with her mental health,' and she never let on," Jenkins said. "Kids will say, 'I should have done this. I could have done that.' In reality, the answer is, 'No, you couldn't have.' You are good and you are compassionate and loving, and there was nothing you could have done, and there was nothing that you did that caused the person to die by suicide."
Jenkins said nationwide they are seeing rising numbers of kids who need this type of camp and counseling.
"I really want to leave a legacy, and I want people to think and believe that my whole heart was in this." she said.
She hopes kids can find the same peace through camp as she does through running.
"Through running, I've gained a community. You really have an opportunity to take time out for you," Jenkins said. "That's really what I hope for these kids is that through the work I get to do with them and all the adults they interact with, and the other campers that they realize how resilient they are."
Camp Kita will take place from Aug. 14-19, 2022, in the Agassiz Village in Poland.
Poland Spring donated $3,000 to the runners for the 2022 Boston Marathon.
"Poland Spring is proud to support Camp Kita and the incredibly important work they do supporting children who have lost a loved one to suicide," leaders wrote in a statement.
You can donate to the Camp Kita Boston Marathon runners here: https://www.givengain.com/cc/teamkita2022/
You can donate to camp kita by visiting campkita.org or https://campkita.kindful.com/