How Beanie Feldstein’s Brother’s Death Inspired Her to Become a Counselor at a Camp for Grieving Teens

Two summers ago, Beanie Feldstein was scrolling through her TikTok feed when she saw a video that she couldn't stop watching

Published Time: 31.03.2024 - 16:31:04 Modified Time: 31.03.2024 - 16:31:04

Two summers ago, Beanie Feldstein was scrolling through her TikTok feed when she saw a video that she couldn't stop watching.

"It was a boy talking about losing his father and how an organization called Experience Camps had made him feel less alone,” the Booksmart star, 30, tells PEOPLE. Feldstein, who was still reeling from the sudden and shocking death of her older brother Jordan, who passed away as a result of a blood clot in 2017, says she was immediately drawn in.

"I went down the rabbit hole of reading everything I could about Experience Camps," she says. She learned they are a free, weeklong program offered at 15 camps across seven states each summer to kids from 4th grade to 12th who have lost a family member.

While they offer the same fun and games that all camps offer, they also have bereavement specialists on hand, hold nightly grief circles, and are just a place for kids to feel less alone in their loss. Feldstein immediately knew she wanted to get involved.

“I messaged them on Instagram and said, ‘Hey, this is a cause that is extremely close to my heart. Anything I can do to help, let me know,' ” she recalls. Soon she was on the phone with an employee, who suggested she volunteer as a counselor.

“I can’t even put into words how life-changing an experience it is," she says of working at the camp, where she teaches theater for a week each summer. Now she's also a member of the board and doing what she can to help with expansion plans. She adds, “It’s such a beautiful community. It altered my being and my heart.” 

The Camps first launched in 2009 in Maine, when founder Sara Deren, whose husband Jon was a camp owner and operator, realized she wanted to create a camp to support grieving kids. The difference between her operation and other similar grief camps, is that she wanted Experience Camps to focus on fun, not just sorrow.

Feldstein says, "They're creating a space that is intended to be fun and joyful. And everything that summer camp is, I mean, it has the friendship bracelets and food fights and lakes and screaming at the top of your lungs and all of that juicy good stuff that is the root of why camp is so special. But then you add on this beautiful important layer of connectivity and conversations around grief."

Perhaps most important is how campers feel when they get there, knowing that they are not the "weirdo" or odd one out because they've suffered such a loss.

"Usually I have this thing hanging over my head," says camper Kennedy Murphy, whose father died of a heart attack when she was five. "But at Experience, you know everyone has had something. happen to them, so we all just get it." She says the bo -

nds she's formed with other kids at camp are life changing. "It's really important having that support system," she shares.

Feldstein adds, "I think when a tragedy or loss happens to a person or to a family, it can feel very insular. And at least in my experience, it takes a few years to come out of that immediacy and shock and grief haze. The most incredible thing about Experience Camps is that we are a place for children to come at us at any point in their grief journey."

For camp counselor Matt Liebhaber, 34, now in his eighth year of volunteering, the camp changed everything when it came to facing his own grief.

“When I was 19, I lost my mother to an 18-month bout with breast cancer. Like most ‘invincible’ teenage males, I tried to deny the impact her absence had on my life,” he says. “It wasn’t until my late 20s that I realized I had gravely miscalculated how much I needed her and how many regrets I had as a result of not acknowledging that void sooner.”

He says that when he first got to the camp, he tried to bond with the other teens by talking about fun topics, like LeBron James and video games.

“Then at our first grief-sharing circle, I honestly shared for the first time where I was at . . . my most raw and vulnerable truth,” he says. “As we walked away, a camper slung an arm around my shoulder and said, ‘You’re a real one, Matty Matt. I’m glad you’re here.’ ”

Feldstein notes that it's much easier for campers and counselors to talk to people who have experienced what they have. "For people who haven’t experienced that kind of loss, there’s understandably a struggle to have a conversation about it. That’s not the case here,” she says. 

Experience Camps recently launched the website, which is run in part by a youth advisory board of teens and campers. It consists of essays, celebrity interviews, humorous memes, and ideas for talking about and processing grief. The goal is to provide a resource for children dealing with loss year round.

"We're committed to transforming the way society approaches grief, moving away from avoidance and towards understanding and support, through youth-informed education and advocacy efforts," says Deren.

Feldstein adds, "Having this platform is important because it can keep the conversation going. Nothing has motivated me more than working with this organization. I feel really honored to be a part of it."

To learn more about experience camps or donate, please visit

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