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Nonprofit with Arlington ties offers camping and hiking trips for teens who have lost a loved one

Teens and tweens explore the outdoors through Hope for Grieving Families (courtesy photos)

A nonprofit with ties to Arlington is offering free outdoor hiking and camping adventures for D.C.-area teens and tweens grieving the loss of a loved one.

Hope for Grieving Families is partnering with the educational nonprofit Outward Bound to send up to 30 tweens and teens on a one-day ropes course adventure and a group of eight to 10 high schoolers on a seven-day expedition in the Appalachian Mountains.

The deadline to apply for both programs is next Friday, May 19.

The program does not aim to provide counseling, but rather, an opportunity for teens to befriend feeling similar emotions.

“The friendships that have blossomed between these teens are so amazing,” Tara O’Brien, the executive director of Hope for Grieving Families, tells ARLnow. “It makes you feel like you’re doing something that means something, that is still impacting these families’ lives.”

In a press release, the nonprofit said one in 13 children will lose a parent by the time they are 18 and one in five will lose someone close to them by 18 — and that these children will experience grief differently than adults.

“For kids who have faced the immensely painful loss of a parent, sibling, or other loved one, the chance to connect with each other out in nature is an unforgettable, healing experience,” O’Brien said in a statement.

“Our participants learn from our guides and from one another, building resilience and self-advocacy skills,” she continued. “Most of all, these trips are an opportunity for grieving children to just experience some fun again, alongside other kids who are going through the same journeys of loss and healing.”

Jason Alford, of Outward Bound, says research shows most children who have experienced loss benefit from peer-to-peer support.

“Children can experience comfort from having others who understand grief and loss. Without a peer support group, children can feel anxious, isolated and overwhelmed,” he said in a statement. “Our expedition program with Outward Bound was designed with these evidence-based insights in mind.”

Hope For Grieving Families says it is the D.C. area’s only organization providing “family-focused grief programming” aimed at giving people new, positive memories and experiences after a loss.

Its founder, Becky Wagner, lives in Arlington and the nonprofit serves many from North Arlington and Northern Virginia more broadly, O’Brien said.

Clients come to the organization for a range of reasons, O’Brien tells ARLnow. Many have lost someone to suicide or a car accident, while for others, family members died after a bout with cancer.

“The thing that bonds them all is that they all understand they’re going through a grieving process,” she said. “They might not talk about the grief but they all understand what they’re going through.”

The nonprofit focuses on creating fun experiences for teens processing their grief. O’Brien says it is sensitive to current events that may trigger that grief, such as a recent shooting at a mall in Allen, Texas.

“We’re always aware of how people are feeling and make sure we match them up with resources… as needed,” she said. “We work with private therapists to make sure we’re getting the resources to people. When something happens that hits close to home it can retrigger that experience based on whatever that grief is.”

This is the second year of the program, per the press release. Teen advisory president for Hope For Grieving Families, Anais Joubert, came up with the idea because she experienced healing outdoors after her father died.

“This has been a life-changing experience for our teens,” 17-year-old Joubert said in a statement. “The kids who participated last year had time to discuss their grief together if they wanted to, and also time for reflection. The underlying bond of shared grief allows them to feel supported and understood.”

People who know a grieving teen who could benefit from either outing are asked to visit the Hope for Grieving Families website for more information and to sign up.

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