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Updated: June 10, 2024

York County organization for grieving children is establishing a permanent home

Three people hold a banner outside to advertise the new location of Camp Kita. Photo / Courtesy, The Kita Center The tuition-free summer bereavement camp, for children who are survivors of a loved one’s suicide, has been held at different locations each year. Soon it will have a permanent home. Seen here in 2021, after given use of the Acton property are, from left, siblings and co-founders Morgan, Sydney and Isaiah Mosher.

The Kita Center, a nonprofit that hosts a free summer camp for children grieving a loved one’s suicide, is building a permanent location on a 28-acre property at Loon Pond in the York County town of Acton.

The organization was started as Camp Kita in 2013 by siblings Sydney, Isaiah and Morgan Mosher, who lost their father Chris to suicide in 2001.

The tuition-free bereavement program is open to children ages 8 to 17. The camp has been held at different locations each year as the siblings have rented various facilities throughout Maine. 

Campers at Camp Kita sit around a bonfire.
Photo / Courtesy The Kita Center
From five campers a decade ago, the camp reached capacity with 75 children.

However, the organization is growing and evolving to provide more resources with the aim of helping a bigger population.

Growing need

The camp opened in the summer of 2014 with five campers; it was held for a week at rented facilities at Agassiz Village Summer Camp in Poland. 

In recent years, the week-long camp has rented facilities at Camp CenterStage in Livermore.

The camp provides some of the traditional experiences of any rural summer camp. But the program also provides clinical professionals who lead small peer support sessions and offer 24/7 trauma support. There are age-appropriate peer groups led by mental health professionals, with restorative activities to ease campers into safe and meaningful conversations about their grief. Mentors are adults with who participate in camp alongside the campers and model healthy coping strategies. 

The programming includes activities such as sports and games, hiking, nature education and outdoor skills, challenge courses, woodworking, art, photography, yoga and fishing.

Through the years, the camp has continued to be a one-week session each summer at facilities rented from other camps. But enrollment quickly grew and is now at the capacity cut-off of 75 children, said Sydney Mosher. 

Most of the campers come from within Maine. About 30% come from elsewhere, as far as the West Coast, Canada and Europe. The Kita Center employs a full-time and a part-time staff. The camp program is carried out by volunteers, including counselors and clinicians. 

A cabin at The Kita Center is painted with colorful images
Photo / Courtesy The Kita Center
Cosmetic updates of a cabin at the Acton site were made by Connecticut muralist Brian Kaspr.

Using rented facilities has meant that Kita’s one-week sessions are scheduled at the end of the landlord’s season and that Kita couldn’t expand its programming.

Permanent home

In 2021, with an eye toward establishing a permanent home that would provide an opportunity for more camp sessions and expanded programming, the Kita organization was given the opportunity to use the Acton land, bought by a donor on Kita’s behalf and leased to Kita for $1 per year over a 30-year term.

The name was changed from Camp Kita to the Kita Center to reflect the expansion, with various programs now in the works to reach more individuals and communities. Its flagship program, Camp Kita, remains a vital part of the organization. The program is also expanding to offer training, retreats for underserved and hard-hit communities, support groups and a sanctuary for social connection. 

The Acton property was formerly a Boy Scout camp and had basic infrastructure such as three small cabins, outhouses and a tent clearing.

The organization hired a South Portland civil engineering firm, Sebago Technics, and a Biddeford architectural firm, Oak Point Associates. The general contractor is PC Construction Co., which is based in South Burlington, Vt., and has a Portland office. 

A drawing shows an aerial view of rehab and construction at The Kita Center in Acton.
Photo / Courtesy The Kita Center
The permanent home will provide an opportunity for more camp sessions and expanded programming.

The project includes updating the cabins, bringing in a well, septic and electric systems and 13 prefabricated cabins.

Under construction is a dining hall called Kita Commons, which will eventually also be available as a training facility and for community use for activities such as discussions around suicide prevention. 

There will be a medical cabin, bathhouses, group therapy cabins, staff and retreat cabins, playing fields, outdoor pavilions, welcome center, waterfront, fire pits, walking trails, community mental health center “Kita Commons,” and a nature education building.

“At our new place, our hope is to add an additional session or sessions of the Camp Kita program, and to complement that with additional programs such as Resilience Retreats for caregivers, families, young adults, and more,” said Mosher.

The first phase of redevelopment, costing $2.9 million and expected to be complete by mid-July, will have seven of the 13 cabins and most of the site work.

Mosher said the hope is for the Kita Center to raise another $350,000 for this phase of construction. 

An illustratino shows a brown building and a big deck.
Photo / Courtesy The Kita Center
Kita Commons will serve as a dining hall and community mental health center.

The goal is to start the second phase of construction in October. That cost is expected to be around $3.6 million. 

Financing comes from government and non-governmental sources. Among supporters, Partners Bank donated $25,000 and became a sponsor of the Kita Center. 

The goal is to have the total project completed by the summer of 2025. 

A plan is in the works to host an RSVP open house on Aug. 18 at the Acton site to show progress on the first phase of construction. For updates, click here.

Expanded programming 

The Kita Center has started establishing additional programs. This summer, the organization launched a respite cabin at the Acton location for families who have experienced loss by suicide, aiming to foster an environment for reconnection. Additionally, the center will be piloting a Family Resilience Retreat program. 

In partnership with Stay; For Life, the Kita Center is offering comfort boxes to those grieving the recent loss of a loved one to suicide; the boxes provide books, resources and self-care items. Stay; For Life is a Maine-based nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives by advocating for men's mental health and suicide prevention.

"Having a permanent home allows us to serve more people and establish deep roots in the community with our unique suicide prevention programs," said Mosher. "We are thrilled to embark on this new chapter."

Four people pose with an oversize check for The Kita Center.
Photo / Courtesy Partners Bank
Sydney Mosher, second from right, accepts a $25,000 donation from Partners Bank’s president and CEO Blaine Boudreau, marketing director Deb Mullen and Springvale office market manager Kyla Simpson.

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