After devoting nearly 20 years to the health and well-being of her mountain-area neighbors, last summer Barb Lamperski decided it was time to dial it back.
But not all the way back.
“I was ready to do less,” Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice’s director of bereavement says. “But I wasn’t ready to let go of Camp Comfort.”
And that’s surely a good thing for Camp Comfort. Certainly no one knows better than Barb what it takes to keep Mount Evans’ groundbreaking bereavement program for children running smoothly on little sneakered feet, or appreciates more deeply the challenges and rewards of helping Colorado’s most vulnerable victims of loss find hope and healing. A lifetime of service brought Barb Lamperski to Camp Comfort; and a lifetime of caring will keep her there for many a mournful, cheerful, hopeful summer to come.
Growing up in Philadelphia the younger of two daughters, if Barb couldn’t yet see Camp Comfort ahead on her life’s journey, she saw the road clearly enough. Her mother was a social worker, and opening a window into the lives of those around her seemed to Barb a marvelous and meaningful calling.
“I was really interested in people, how they lived their lives and how they coped with different situations,” she explains. “I loved being allowed to hear their stories. I wasn’t a good student at things that didn’t interest me, but I was a great student when it came to people. When I was ready for college, I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Barb attended a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, earned a degree in social work, and began applying her interest in earnest. Even more interesting was a handsome fellow named Mark Lamperski, who worked for Coca-Cola USA and found Barb captivating. The two were married, and the young couple followed Mark’s career west to Salt Lake City. As it happened, the Beehive State was good for Barb’s professional development, too.
“There aren’t many colleges that offer advanced degrees in social work,” she says. “The University of Utah had a master’s program. It was just really good luck.”
And it was good luck for Evergreen when Mark’s job brought the Lamperski family to Colorado in 1994. They settled in North Evergreen; and when Barb wasn’t chasing around after the couple’s two energetic daughters, she often volunteered as a reading tutor at local schools. And she began donating her time and talents to Mount Evans.
“I did respite, and I volunteered for bereavement. I would call people who’d suffered a loss and find out what they needed. And I would just let them know I was always available to talk.”
If emotionally demanding, the work was well-suited to Barb’s personal and professional attainments; and when a social work position opened up in 1997, she joined the Mount Evans staff. And it was a couple of years later while working as a Mount Evans bereavement counselor that she first caught sight of her ultimate destination.
“I helped out at Camp Comfort where I could; and I was even a ‘buddy’ a couple of times,” smiles Barb, referring to the volunteer “buddies” that serve each camper as friend, confidante and unconditional advocate. “I thought it was really, really cool that those kids had a place to go, and it was interesting to see that side of bereavement. And I was very impressed that Mount Evans had always been so supportive of that idea.”
Being named the organization’s director of bereavement in 2007, Barb discovered that the reins of Camp Comfort came with the job. And, as she soon found out, for a program that serves up to 50 kids during each of just two summer weekends, Camp Comfort requires that every one of a zillion details be addressed before the first heartsick camper rolls into the Easter Seals facility on Friday afternoon.
“I usually start in late January, getting the word out to schools, hospitals, hospices and organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters all over the state. I try to talk to as many people as I can.”
Then there’s specialized staff to be engaged, menus to plan, buddies to bring aboard, and potential campers to evaluate and, if needed, arrange funding for. By June, talking turns into toting as Barb and her staff begin collecting and carting everything the kids will need for a successful Camp Comfort session. Food, art and craft supplies, therapeutic materials, medical equipment, electronic gear and even a karaoke machine must be procured, packed and portaged to Empire Junction.
“We usually have about four carloads going up [for each of the two summer camps],” Barb laughs. “It’s a lot of work.” And it’s a lot of satisfaction, because there’s no place like Camp Comfort for reminding caring souls why they chose such a challenging field in the first place.
“It’s bereavement, but it’s also joyful, and fun. And it’s so cool to spend the weekend with our volunteers. They’re amazing people. Camp Comfort can be really, really hard; but it’s such a huge experience. There’s nothing like it.”
“I’ll give up Camp Comfort eventually,” she says. “But not now. I do it just because I love it so much.”