By Kristina Houck
At just 15 years old, Annalisa Albanese could not talk about the loss of her father with her friends. No one her age understood her pain until she went to Camp Erin, a bereavement camp for children.
“There were other kids who understood the pain of losing a loved one,” said Annalisa, whose father died from kidney cancer on Nov. 10, 2012. He was 52. “Knowing that someone else feels the same pain makes you feel a lot better.”
One in seven Americans lose a parent or sibling before the age of 20. Grieving children have an opportunity to share their story, express their feelings and memorialize their loved ones at Camp Erin.
Founded by former Major League Baseball player, Jamie Moyer, and his wife, Karen Moyer, the camp is featured in the HBO documentary, “One Last Hug (and a few smooches): Three Days at Grief Camp.” The film debuts April 14.
“‘One Last Hug’ illuminates a child’s unique perspective on death,” said Karen Moyer in a short speech before a private screening of the film on March 27 at UC San Diego’s Price Center Theater. “It’s a testament to the healing power of friendship.”
The Rancho Santa Fe-based couple launched the Moyer Foundation in 2000 to provide comfort, hope and healing to children affected by loss and family addiction. Camp Erin was created two years later in memory of Erin Metcalf, a Seattle Mariners fan who died from cancer at 17.
The foundation now has 43 Camp Erin locations across the United States and Canada, including one in every Major League Baseball city. More than 10,000 children have attended the camps since the first Camp Erin took place in 2002, in Erin’s home state of Washington.
In addition to Camp Erin, the foundation launched Camp Mariposa for children affected by addiction in their families. Both camps offer traditional camp activities, as well as education and support that helps children understand and express their feelings, and learn to process what they are going through.
“Every one of these kids fills my heart, and I’m thrilled that these camps exist for them,” said Moyer, a mother of eight.
“Both camps are unique and super fun. These kids come together and they find positive ways to cope. It truly allows them to live on and live well.”
In 2013, Camp Erin San Diego held its first session in partnership with San Diego’s Elizabeth Hospice. Annalisa was one of the 92 campers ages 6 to 17.
Camp was especially difficult for Annalisa as it was held during her father’s birthday on June 8.
“It was very emotional,” said Liz Sumner, director of the Center for Compassionate Care at San Diego’s Elizabeth Hospice. Sumner sent brownies to Annalisa’s cabin, where she and her fellow campers lit candles and sang “Happy Birthday.”
“It was an opening for her to start to find some healing.”
Annalisa, now a 17-year-old junior at Excelsior Academy in San Diego, spoke about her experience at camp on a panel after the private screening.
“Everyone understood,” she said. “Even though it was really sad, I had everybody there for me.”
Camp is held once a year, with the next Camp Erin San Diego session set for June 6-8 at Camp Marston in Julian. The camp is still recruiting campers and volunteers.
Annalisa plans to return to Camp Erin San Diego in June. She wants to eventually be a counselor at the camp.
“Don’t be afraid,” Sumner said. “It’s a chance for you to be surrounded by people who really understand. You’re not alone.”
Camp Mariposa San Diego, which is run in partnership with San Diego Youth Services, also held its first session in 2013. The camp is held five times each year in Pine Valley. The next sessions take place May 16-18, Aug. 22-24, Oct. 17-19 and Dec. 5-7.
It costs about $500 to send a child to camp. Camp sessions are free for campers, so the Moyer Foundation raises funds for programs and initiatives through special events, corporate partnerships and individual donations. The foundation also relies on volunteers. More than 80 volunteers supported Camp Erin San Diego last year.
“It is our hope that this film will shed light on the need to raise awareness about childhood grief, and it will result in widespread advocacy and support all across this country,” Moyer said. “This documentary has no Hollywood. I would never, ever allow that. These are real stories from real kids who come to our camp.”
Directed by Academy Award nominee Irene Taylor Brodsky, “One Last Hug” offers an intimate portrayal of the three-day camp. The documentary, which features Camp Erin Los Angeles, will debut at 8 p.m. April 14 on HBO.
To watch the trailer, visit
For more information about the Moyer Foundation, Camp Erin and Camp Mariposa, visit