Personality: Lynne B. Hughes

Spotlight on Comfort Zone Camp founder

1/11/2024, 6 p.m.
When Lynne B. Hughes lost her mother and father at the age of 9 and 12, respectively, she struggled to …

When Lynne B. Hughes lost her mother and father at the age of 9 and 12, respectively, she struggled to find help after their deaths.

Her efforts to process her feelings and losses were stymied in part by a lack of support and options. Over the years she became more aware of how many others faced similar struggles.

“I realized there were no resources for grieving children,” Ms. Hughes says, “and I wanted to create a place where kids could realize they weren’t alone, gain tools to help them navigate their grief and get back to being kids again.”

Ms. Hughes would find inspiration soon after her loss at a youth summer camp that allowed her to process her grief.

The experience stayed with her during college, when she began researching summer camps in hopes of helping other children like she had been helped as a camp counselor.

Comfort Zone Camp, a program whose reach extends far beyond Virginia, is the result of Ms. Hughes’ desire to see children heal, grow and lead more fulfilling lives. She is the founder of the international camp that provides a space for children and young adults to process their trauma, find community and solidarity.

Since CZC began providing free weekend bereavement camps at rented sites, Ms. Hughes has seen it expand across the country.

More than 23,000 children have been helped through the camps after its founding in Richmond in 1998, and she’s seen firsthand the impact it’s had in the lives of its participants.

“I’ve seen kids come back year after year and go from being on the fringe to being leaders and helping others. Now one-third of our volunteers are former campers — paying forward what was given to them.”

CZC has repeatedly expanded in response to moments of major trauma, hosting camps at sites in Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks. CZC also began offering virtual camps during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while the number of children helped through the program is substantial, Ms. Hughes believes the state of the world has continued to make CZC a necessary resource. She says she repeatedly has seen that youths aren’t properly prepared for tragedies and disappointments, and not given the right support when they occur.

“We live in a death-avoidant society where children aren’t encouraged to talk about their grief or their loss,” says Ms. Hughes, and points to a recent rise in suicides and deaths by overdose as major points of worry.

“By having kids come to a camp, with no distractions, it creates a ‘bubble’: where kids can ‘turbo-bond’ — everyone is there for the same reason and is leaning in and saying, ‘me too’.”

Ms. Hughes also believes children need better guidance for “life grief,” from parental divorce to academic struggles, romantic issues and other “unfair moments” big and small that may arise in their lives.

“They need a voice and a place,” she says. “I think all kids can really benefit from a comfort zone.”

Meet a longtime supporter of grieving youths and this week’s Personality, Lynne B. Hughes:

Occupation: CEO and founder, Comfort Zone Camp.

Date of birth: April 28.

Where I live now: Rockville.

Education: Bachelor’s in communications from Michigan State University.

Family: Married to Kelly Hughes; son, Evan; daughter, Jamie.

Comfort Zone Camp is: A nonprofit bereavement camp that offers free weekend camps to children ages 7 to 17 and young adults.

Mission: Comfort Zone Camp’s mission is to empower children experiencing grief to fully realize their capacity to heal, grow and lead more fulfilling lives.

How Comfort Zone Camp works in a nutshell: We provide free weekend camps for children who’ve experienced the death of a close loved one.

We pair every child up with their own big buddy mentor who serves as their anchor/friend throughout the weekend as they do traditional camp activities but also participate in small support groups, called healing circles, where they tell their stories and talk about their feelings and gain tools to help them navigate their grief journey. Kids are able to attend annually.

Comfort Zone Camp attendees are: Children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling, primary caregiver or friend due to death.

Comfort Zone Camp cost for campers: Camp is offered at no cost.

Comfort Zone Camp is funded: Through individual and corporate donations, grants and fundraising events.

Comfort Zone Camp’s 2024 No. 1 one goal or project: To serve more children! We want to reach more children in the Richmond area and surround area. We are adding five camps in 2024.

Strategy for achieving goals: Network with those who come in contact with children and families; primarily schools and also word of mouth. Also through the media.

No. 1 challenge: Creating awareness that kids do grieve even though it doesn’t look like adult grief and its important they work on their grief as children, which will allow them to be happier and healthier adults. Also understanding the importance of learning to drain our grief off in health ways. Also getting enough male volunteers. We need more males who want to come and change a child’s life. They don’t have to have had a loss to be a volunteer — just a heart for grieving kids!

Racial equity and Comfort Zone Camp: Comfort Zone Camp always has been open to all children and families of all backgrounds and races. A core tenet of our program is to offer camps free of charge so that cost is never a barrier to attend. When every child attending puts on the same Comfort Zone T-shirt and starts sharing what it’s like to lose someone and the feelings that come with that and they lean in and say, “it gets better” or “me too”, they realize they are all members of the same grief family.

Ways to get involved with Comfort Zone Camp as a volunteer or for a child/parent/ guardian in need: We need volunteers at camp and also in the office! The best way to get involved is to contract our office at 804-377-3430; email info@comfortzonecamp.org or visit our webpage at www.comfortzonecamp.org

Comfort Zone Camp partners with: Schools, churches, funeral homes, pediatricians, physicians and more!

Upcoming events: Camps in April, May, June, September and November. Virtual support groups for kids and parents four weeknights in February

How I start the day: I start with a thank you prayer to God for letting me live to see another day and asking him to help me be a light to others.

The three words that best describe me: Resilient, caring and determined.

If I had 10 extra minutes in the day I would: Exercise!

If I could host a dream dinner party, my one special guest would be: My mom. She died when I was 9 and I never got to know her as a person so I would love to see and talk to her through adult eyes!

Best late-night snack: Dark chocolate!

The music I listen to most is: ’70s music.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Watch Hallmark movies! I love a happy ending!

A quote that inspires: “One person can make a difference and every person should try.” — John F. Kennedy

At the top of my “to-do” list: Prioritizing all the balls I have to keep juggling.

The best thing my parents ever taught me: My parents died when I was young but I do remember my Dad always encouraging me that I could be anything I wanted and I had the ability to leave my mark.

The person who influenced me the most: My parents and the lack of having them in my life influenced me the most.

Book that influenced me the most: “Motherless Daughters” by Hope Edelman. I didn’t realize the impact that losing my mother had on me at a young age and the role mothers play in our lives. It also made an impact because the author was my age and it inspired me to take action in my own life.

What I’m reading now: “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. My takeaway: “Discovering your own WHY can restore your passion to a degree multiple times greater than at any other time in your life. People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. Those who truly lead are able to create a following of people who act not because they were swayed but because they were inspired.”

Next goal: Work with communities to understand the unqiue needs of grieving children; how grief affects mental health and how Comfort Zone Camp can help.