Bereavement camp in Maine, founded by siblings, helps grieving kids affected by suicide as rates rise

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This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

At first glance, Camp Kita seems like a fairly typical summer camp. It’s located on a lake in Maine, and its 75 campers spend the week canoeing and learning how to fish. They leave, in many cases, with lifelong friendships.

The campers of Camp Kita, however, all have one unique and tragic commonality: They are survivors of suicide loss.

Believed to be the first of its kind when it was created in 2013, Camp Kita is a tuition-free summer camp for children ages 8 to 17 who have experienced the suicide of a loved one. The camp purposefully does not define “loved one,” it says, as the definition is different for every family.

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Siblings Isaiah, Sydney and Morgan Mosher founded Camp Kita together. They know firsthand what campers are experiencing: They lost their own father to suicide in 2003. 

“So when we initially got the idea, we were thinking we would do just like, you know, maybe a camping weekend, or something with a canoe trip, with suicide survivors. And it evolved into the idea of an actual, more structured, summer camp,” Morgan Mosher told Fox News Digital in a phone interview.

Their first year, Camp Kita had five campers and was funded by an Indiegogo campaign, she also said. 

Inspired by their father’s love of nature, the Mosher siblings wanted the program to be nature-based. So they started the Camp Kita Foundation, and raised just enough money that first year to rent a cabin for five campers. 

“Then we just took off with a hope and a prayer and really kicked off our first season,” said Morgan Mosher. 

“And there were some really magical moments that first season that led us to believe it was something worth continuing to grow and continue to explore, and kind of more formally put together.” 

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“Kita” is the Abenaki word for “listen,” said Mosher. 

The Abenaki people are indigenous to the northeastern United States, where Camp Kita is located.

“There were some really magical moments that first season that led us to believe it was something worth continuing to grow.”

“And Indigenous people have a history with mental health and suicide as well,” she said. “So we try to respect them and always make them aware of our part of our process. We donate to the local tribe every year to help us with honoring the name of Kita.” 

But for Mosher and the rest of the people behind Camp Kita, the word “kita” truly epitomizes the goals of camp.

“We’re here to listen, and we’re here to support and understand, and really make sure our campers are seen and heard and in a safe place to do that,” she said.  

After that first season, Camp Kita continued to grow.

The following year the organization welcomed 25 campers, plus additional mental health support staff. 

Today, the camp is limited to 75 total campers but is aggressively looking to expand its options with additional sessions, among other programs. 

Most of Camp Kita’s growth is attributed to word of mouth, said Mosher. 

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“We never really did any marketing or anything related to that, but all of our campers had such a wonderful experience when they came here. Many times they would go back into their communities and start being an advocate for mental health, speaking about their loss, and raising money locally for us,” she said. 

“And it really expanded and took off from there.” 

“This is an environment that is safe for them to let their inhibitions go about their loss.”

The setting of a sleepaway summer camp provides a “really safe bubble for our campers,” said Mosher. 

When campers arrive, they “immediately know that this is an environment that is safe for them to kind of let their inhibitions go about their loss,” said Mosher. That loss “becomes something that they don’t need to directly even ever say, because everybody already knows. There’s already that equal understanding.” 

“So they come with an understanding that allows them to really open up and start being free with their emotions, free with their joy, free with their hope, but also free with their grief,” she said. 

Survivors of suicide loss often find themselves in a strange position compared to those who lost loved ones due to things such as diseases or accidents, said Mosher. 

Speaking personally, Mosher said that her father’s suicide came with feelings of not only grief, but also a sense of stigma and guilt. 

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“Grief comes with a lot of it, because of the stigma around suicide,” she said — something that she says has “gotten better” in the last few years. 

“But when I was a kid, people didn’t rally around a suicide loss like they might have in that of another loss,” said Mosher. She noted that obituaries often do not list “suicide” as a cause of death as they would in cases of cancer or other diseases. 

“A lot of it’s isolating,” she said. “And so when I was a kid, I had never met another kid who had lost someone to suicide, but there were other kids that had lost someone to suicide — but nobody was talking about it.”

“So you thought you were the only one going through this grief on your own,” Mosher explained.

These feelings of isolation as children helped motivate the creation of Camp Kita, “a community where you didn’t have to explain the guilt, you didn’t have to explain the anger, you didn’t have to explain the embarrassment in a group of other people grieving.” 

The camp focuses on the dual process model of grief, which emphasizes both restorative work and loss-oriented work, said Mosher.

“And so we really try to ensure that our campers do the hard work, but we also do the fun work, and that allows them to start working and developing the tools they need for success throughout life,” she said. 

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“We like to think that your grief doesn’t necessarily go away, but you get stronger with the tools that we’re hopefully giving you.” 

Campers at Camp Kita “have a full day of traditional summer camp activities” — such as canoeing, ropes courses, soccer and archery. 

But for a part of the day, they have “Kita Group,” which is led by a clinician. 

These groups are broken up by age, and campers are in the same group for the entire week of camp.

In Kita Group, campers “can really do some deep loss-oriented processing,” said Mosher. “And they come right back and into the restorative piece.” 

Additionally, there are three 24/7 crisis counselors who are available at any time if a camper needs support to help process something, or if an upsetting memory is triggered. 

The campers “have a very full week,” said Mosher. “I don’t know how they have the energy to do it.” 

Prior to camp, the kids undergo a “readiness assessment” to ensure that they are in a healthy state with their loss, and are in a position to talk about their feelings effectively.

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It “looks different for every camper,” said Mosher. “Some losses are very recent, and some losses are years ago.” 

It was a priority of the Mosher siblings to make the camp tuition-free. Camp Kita raises money throughout the year to cover its expenses, “so the financial impact of camp and coming to camp doesn’t limit who can join us.” 

This is motivated, in part, due to their own background.

“We were very poor when we were growing up, and so when we lost our father, if a program like this existed but there was a cost associated, we wouldn’t have been able to go,” explained Mosher. “It was really important for us that money was never part of the conversation.” 

After 10 years of holding successful camps — including a year of a virtual “camp in a crate” done at the campers’ homes during the summer of 2020 — Camp Kita is looking to add additional programming and evolve into its next phase: the “Kita Center.” 

The Kita Center will have a permanent home on Loon Pond in Acton, Maine. It will provide a wider range of programming than just Camp Kita. Presently, Camp Kita uses other camp facilities after their seasons end. 

In addition to multiple week-long sessions of Camp Kita during the summer months, the Kita Center will have year-round programming for other groups at a higher risk of suicide, including veterans and postpartum mothers.

“The Kita Center will serve as a nurturing haven for those in need, offering various programs designed to reach even more individuals and communities,” says the Kita Center website. 

“We’re expanding to offer training programs, retreats for underserved and hard-hit communities, support groups and a sanctuary for social connection.” 

“Our flagship program, Camp Kita, remains a vital part of what we do. In addition, we’re expanding to offer training programs, retreats for underserved and hard-hit communities, support groups, and a sanctuary for social connection.” 

Mosher told Fox News Digital that she’s “excited” to be able to expand mental health programming to other groups, and that the fundraising effort to build phase one of the Kita Center is ongoing. 

As Camp Kita enters its second decade, Mosher is seeing firsthand the fruits of the work she started with her siblings. 

Five of this year’s volunteers at the camp are former campers who “aged out” — something that gives Mosher hope for the future.

“You develop the community, you bring that circle of healing, you’re bringing it back and hopefully stopping the generational impact of suicide,” said Mosher. 

People who have family members who died by suicide are themselves more likely to die by suicide, she said.

“And so we’re hoping that participating in our program is an act of suicide prevention as well,” she said. 

“And we see that year over year — which is really great.” 

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