Advocating for Grief-Supportive Communities

Posted by Pine Crest School on March 21, 2024 at 9:35 AM

Aron Weingard ’03 recalls that some of his fondest childhood memories were attending a sleep-away camp in Maine. He was unaware of it at the time, but his connection to this camp would prove to be a profound influence on his life and the lives of thousands of grieving children.  

Aron Weingard IiO award podium

Graduating from the University of Florida with a bachelor of science degree in Finance and then a master of science in Entrepreneurship, Aron’s career path led him initially to management and eventually to the wealth management industry. What is unique—and not an obvious step based on his background—is the fact that he has become a nationally recognized leader in the space of childhood grief.

“In 2009, I was approached by the owners of my childhood summer camp,” he said. “They asked me if I would help them start a one-week overnight camp for boys who had experienced the death of a parent, sibling, or primary caregiver. I jumped at the opportunity.”

“Experience Camps is a national, no-cost program for grieving children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. Our one-week, overnight summer camp, year-round programs, and content help to reframe the experience of grief and empower kids with the necessary coping skills to move forward with their lives. Through compassion, connection, and play, Experience Camps allows grieving children to embody a life full of hope and possibility.” 

Aron has been a volunteer counselor for the last 15 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Fundraising Chair and the Board Development and Governance Chair. He co-led the organization's expansion, along with fellow alumnus Brian Klein ’03, to serve children from the Southeast of the United States. In 2022, he was recognized as America's Most Charitable Wealth Advisor under 45 by the Invest In Others Charitable Foundation.

Aron Weingard 03 IiO award

“There are 6 million grieving children in the country,” said Aron. “We have grown the camp program from hosting 27 boys at one location to helping thousands of children across       programs in Georgia, Maine, Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, and most recently, Washington, D.C. and Hawaii.”

He continued saying, “Sadly, the only thing guaranteed in life is death, yet 70% of Americans say they don't know what to say or do when someone is grieving. Beyond the week-long camp, Experience Camps is leading the national effort to create a grief-supportive culture.”

“A grief-supportive society is composed of people who feel more comfortable and better equipped to support those around them who are grieving—from classmates, to friends, coworkers, and family members,” said Aron. “Experience Camps has done an amazing job of simplifying things to make a situation that often feels overwhelming, intimidating, and abstract— especially for those who haven't experienced death in their own lives—easier to navigate.” 

A Weingard Lori and Joey Waldman and Brian Klein _ first summer launching southeast programAron Weingard ’03, Lori and Joey Waldman, and Brian Klein ’03 at the launch of Experience Camps' Southeast program.

 “Grief never goes away, and it can hit you at unexpected times,” he continued. “We’re seeing more grief-conscious actions—there have been significant efforts among corporations to give customers the option to opt out of Mother’s Day emails, for example, because those types of holidays are very hard for grieving people.”

Experience Camps works across the country, year-round to raise awareness with local  childhood grief-support organizations, religious organizations, and schools.

“We do that in a number of ways,” said Aron. “We have published thought leadership on the topic and launched a campaign to help people talk about grief, going beyond ‘sorry for your loss.’ We host and speak on panels, publish articles—we also have a huge social media presence reaching millions, especially on TikTok and Instagram.”

“One of our goals is to impact children beyond the bunk and reach them where they are. For many kids today, that happens through gaming,” he said. In collaboration with Connected Camps, an online learning platform powered by youth Minecraft experts, Experience Camps launched ‘ExperienceCraft.’ ExperienceCraft is a server on Minecraft for children aged nine to 16 who have experienced the death of a parent, primary caregiver, or sibling.

ExperienceCraftIn the Minecraft server ExperienceCraft, grieving kids are invited to play together — and be kind to one another. Credit: ExperienceCraft

The goal of ExperienceCraft is to provide an opportunity for grieving children to connect year-round as they play Minecraft. Like the summer camps, there is a mixture of volunteers and paid clinicians moderating the server, and it has been designed to be fun. The server features building challenges and a memorial garden where children can honor their loved ones. ExperienceCraft was named a finalist in Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Award, which honors the best design in software or digital products.

Read more about ExperienceCraft.


“Experience Camps is a place where kids can go to learn they aren’t alone,” he said. “They make great friends, rediscover joy, and ultimately gain confidence in themselves and their futures. The organization is primarily staffed by volunteers, 10 of whom graduated from Pine Crest. Ashley Laughlin ’02 serves as the National Senior Program Manager and Brian Klein ’03, who served as the founding Program Director for the boy’s Southeast camp, recently joined our Board of Directors. It is special that so many fellow Pine Crest alumni have dedicated their time to the program and it has been incredible to watch them make a life-changing impact for themselves and hundreds of children.”

Aron Weingard, Kenny Dettman and Brian Klein 03Aron Weingard ’03, Kenny Dettman ’03, and Brian Klein ’03 proudly represent the Class of 2003!


Sharing what the camp experience is like, Aron said “The camp is 80% play and 20% organized bereavement activities facilitated by licensed clinicians. We offer group therapy, art, music, and writing; kids feel comfortable expressing grief in different ways so it's important to provide a diversity of outlets for them.”

Aron shared one aspect of his work that motivates him to continue pushing forward, and that is the transformation he’s witnessed among countless campers.

Shark Tank event at Experience Camps_group of the finalists who pitch new camp activities

“It is amazing to see children come back year after year,” he said. “One of our campers said that it was during the first summer that he realized he wasn't alone. The second year, he learned he could talk about his sister who had passed away. The third year, he learned he could help young boys who felt like he did not long ago.”

Looking ahead, Aron is invigorated about the organization’s expansion to open more camps, create a grief-supportive culture in the United States, and reach more of the country’s 6 million affected children through innovative technologies and partnerships.

“There are three ways people can support Experience Camps—and ultimately children that are grieving,” Aron said.

  1. Help us reach more grieving children—you can introduce individuals, families, or institutions (churches, synagogues, hospitals) to our organization.
  2. Help us support grieving children by volunteering as a counselor—the heart of Experience Camps is our volunteer base. It’ll be the best experience of your life!
  3. Help us serve more grieving children via financially supporting—donate or refer us to a foundation.

The growth of the program over 15 years has been astounding. I am proud that Experience Camps is leading the way by cultivating a more empathetic, kind, and connected world.”


Read more from "Changemakers," The Magazine Winter 2024

Topics: Alumni, The Magazine, 2024