Decent Humans: Sara at Experience Camps

on January 28, 2019

Decent Humans is what we call the incredible community we witness on CrowdRise each and every day doing amazing things for good. And each month, we’re going to highlight a Decent Human in the nonprofit world that’s devoting their time and passion to giving back and making a difference. We hope that by sharing their stories of aid, altruism, and passion, others will be inspired to make an even greater impact on the world we live in.

This month we talked to Sara Deren, the founder and Chief Experience Officer of Experience Camps, about how salads are too crunchy, how strategic growth is a major part of their success, and how magical that one week can be.


Inspired by her school teacher parents, Sara always knew that she wanted to take on a role where she could impact children. So after 12 years in the financial services industry, she left to be part of the summer camp world alongside her camp director husband. She quickly realized they had an opportunity to apply the camp facility, methodology, and values to host an incredible one-week experience for kids who had experienced significant loss in their life and felt different because of it. Camp became a one-of-a-kind place that removed that isolation.

On the mission of Experience Camps…

Experience Camp provides a free one-week camp for kids who've had a parent, sibling, or primary caregiver pass away. Everybody that comes to us is between the ages of nine and eighteen, and they've all experienced some significant loss throughout their lives. It could have been at any time. In some cases, we’ll have kids who’ve had a parent or sibling pass away before they were born, and for some, the death occurred just months before they come to camp.


On the stars aligning…

There was a girls camp in Maine that was running a bereavement program and they reached out to our camp to ask if we would run a boys bereavement program. And the stars kind of aligned in that moment. We were like, ‘Yes, we have this foundation. We have this idea. Now we have a purpose, and now we have a program we're going to do.’ It really started with that, and it just grew as the kids wove their stories into our story. It became our heart passion and our mission, in a very quick and authentic way.


On what gets her up in the morning…

People. Hands down. It's not just the kids — I mean the kids are amazing and obviously it's the whole point of what we do — but I get to be around the most exceptional people in the entire world, every single day. It's a pretty self-selecting group that chooses to volunteer their time or to be part of an organization that serves grieving children, so I know a lot of really great people.

On ‘camp magic’...

When we all come together, there’s this vibe of such goodness and light in the world, that can often be so dark, especially for our kids who have suffered through some really traumatic things. There's so much hurt in our group, yet there's so much light and happiness when it comes to this experience for them. They're able to find the positive, and the way that our volunteers are able to extract the positive and shine that down on them, it’s really unique and special. It's incredibly motivating for me to get up and do this every day.

On breakfast and all the snacks…

Right now, I’m sitting in front of an uneaten salad that I didn't want to crunch in your ears, so I'm waiting to have lunch. We don't do a great job of stocking our office with snacks, but we do have a big bowl of leftover Halloween candy. Tootsie Rolls are my guilty pleasure.


On the tool that makes her day a little bit easier…

I'd say Google Calendar is my most efficiency-enabling tool, because I use it for my whole life. I have my work calendar, I have my team calendar, I have my family calendar, I have a kids calendar, a nanny calendar. My whole calendar is color coded. Without that, I would not function each day. That's probably the most helpful tool I have.

On one of the main reasons why Experience Camps is so successful…

Essentially, we act as a business. There's that week of camp that's amazing and magical, and then the rest of the year, we're working on spreadsheets, we're fundraising, and we still have to pay bills. We talk to accountants and we talk to lawyers. It is a business like any other for-profit business, but it has a really special purpose behind it. We run our organization a lot like a start-up. We move quickly and efficiently, we take calculated risks to grow, and we use technology to connect with people and tell our stories.

On office life…

We work right on Main Street in Westport, Connecticut, which is our lovely, idyllic little town. We have three rooms with windows in between them on the second floor of a building, looking out onto downtown Westport. When it isn't cold or raining, I can walk to work. Even though I have my own office, I spend most of my time at a conference room table working with the rest of my team and laughing about something that happened that day.


Thanks so much Sara. What you guys are providing to these children truly is magical and we loved talking to you. We hope you schedule a little time on your Google Calendar for yourself one of these days. Maybe to even eat breakfast. Thanks for being such a Decent Human.

To learn more about Experience Camps, please click here.

Allison Capaldi

Allison Capaldi is the Brand Manager at CrowdRise. She lives and breathes branding and marketing and in her past life was the brand manager for Moosejaw Mountaineering. Her goal is to never write a blog post without including at least one food analogy.