For kids with loss or addiction in their families, these camps offer comfort

Former major league pitcher Jamie Moyer and his wife started a foundation that puts on free, three-day camps for children across the country, helping 4,000 kids last year alone.

Joe Nicholson/AP/File
Former Seattle Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer waves to the crowd as he is inducted into the Mariners' Hall of Fame, Aug. 8, 2015, in Seattle.

It's not that Jamie Moyer regrets becoming a pitcher, throwing for eight Major League Baseball teams over a noteworthy career that lasted some 25 years.

But he just didn't want catching the corner for another strikeout to be his only legacy. He wanted to make a difference in someone's life.

And that's how Mr. Moyer, with the help of his wife, Karen Moyer, started programs to comfort children grieving the loss of a family member or enduring the heartache of having a family member with drug or alcohol problems. The Moyer Foundation began 16 years ago when Mr. Moyer was a Seattle Mariner.

“I just thought we could do more,” he says when asked why he and his wife started the foundation. “Let's give back more. Let's find a way. So we created our foundation.”

Every year, the Moyer Foundation puts on free, three-day camps for kids across the country, helping 4,000 kids last year alone. One of the programs is called Camp Mariposa, which is for kids ages 9 to 12 who have a family member struggling with addiction. Some 8.3 million children in the United States live with a parent who needs treatment for alcohol or drug issues, according to statistics provided by the foundation.

This camp was spurred by an experience that Moyer relates when he and his wife took custody of their niece, whose mother was a drug addict. During the custody process, a judge said they needed to find therapy for their niece.

“Karen went to seek that out, and there was nothing of that sort for kids ages 9 to 12,” Mr. Moyer says.

To provide an option, the Moyers opened Camp Mariposa, and eight camps are now open across the country. The camp helps a child address drug addiction issues, and its goal is to prevent kids from making wrong choices and going down the wrong path.

But Camp Mariposa isn't just about a child sitting with a counselor, getting advice. It's also about playing games, going on hikes, and just having fun.

Kids who attend the camp say the blame and shame they had goes away because of the help they get. “The camp is really impactful,” Moyer says.

The Moyer Foundation's other camp is called Camp Erin, which is named after Erin Metcalf, who died at the age of 17 after a battle with liver cancer. The Moyers met Erin through Make-A-Wish Foundation when Jamie was pitching for the Seattle Mariners.

With 46 camps nationwide, Camp Erin is the largest free bereavement camp in the county.

“She had a love for children,” Moyer says. “She was a magnet to children and children were a magnet to her.”

It was Erin's wish to meet the pitcher, and the Moyers created a bond with Erin and her parents, Michele and Jerry Metcalf. When Erin was gravely ill, the Moyers asked her what she wanted.

“She said, 'I want you to continue to help kids,' ” Moyer says. “We asked Jerry and Michele for their graces to use Erin's name. And so we came up with Camp Erin.”

The camp is for kids ages 6 to 17. They're in an environment where every child is going through a loss of a family member. So grieving is a common bond.

“A lot of kids will pull themselves away from their groups,” Moyer says. “Here they can laugh, they can cry, they can tell a story. It's just a healthy place for them to share and feel comfortable.”

Five years ago, when Blayne Shamarin lost his grandmother, he found comfort at Camp Erin.

“She was my best friend, and losing her was like losing a parent,” says Blayne, speaking at a fundraiser in Seattle for the Moyer Foundation. “I was lucky to go to Camp Erin that year.”

For Moyer, who was inducted into the Mariners' Hall of Fame last year, the satisfaction of knowing his foundation is making a difference in a child's life is more rewarding than any win he had in his long baseball career.

“Baseball was the conduit, the stage to create this type of legacy,” he says.

Without the fame that baseball brought Moyer, these camps across the country wouldn't have happened. And a child wouldn't benefit from their help in finding happiness.

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