Kimberly Reddy understands the depths of grief.
Her firefighter husband, Mike, died in 2016 at only 39-years-old from complications of occupational cancer. As she and her young children grieved, she wanted to do something to help other kids who lost a parent.
Kimberly, a social worker, is hoping to soon launch Camp Reddy, which will provide programming for families who have lost a loved one.
“Given all the COVID limitations, we’re hoping to launch it at the end of the year,” Kimberly said. “We’re hoping for December because that’s probably the best time. That’s when grieving families really need emotional support because of the holidays.”
“It’s been my mission to keep his memory alive,” she said. “His fear was, especially with Grace, that at some point he would become a vague memory in her mind”
A Life of Service
Michael was born in Nyack, New York and moved to Southern California at a young age. After graduating from Norco High School in 1995, he had a successful career as a firefighter/paramedic and fire inspector with the Los Angeles City Fire Department. A dedicated husband and father to Brent Reddy, Tyara Clayton and Grace Reddy, Michael was obsessed with L.A. sports teams, including USC.
He wore his LAFD uniform with equal Los Angeles pride. After dedicating himself to a career of service, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2014. The form was primary signet ring cell carcinoma of the appendix, a very rare neoplasm that usually presents with signs and symptoms of acute appendicitis and in particular with a right lower abdominal pain, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“There were only 27 doctors worldwide who specialize in this particular type of cancer,” Kimberly said. “They [worker’s compensation] would not initially cover the specialist because the worker’s comp oncologist knew nothing about his cancer.”
When he died, Kimberly said, it was “very tough.” Grace was 3 and Brent was 7.
“It’s been my mission to keep his memory alive,” she said. “His fear was, especially with Grace, that at some point he would become a vague memory in her mind. My son had more time with him. I made other attempts, like with a scholarship for students at the El Camino College Fire Academy, but it didn’t seem like enough for me and something my kids could participate in.”
A bereavement camp seemed like the perfect option. During her “widowhood journey,” as Kimberly describes it, she encountered many camps. The kids attended Camp Kesem, for children impacted by a parent’s cancer. But, she says, “that will support and take care of kids, but they don’t engage the entire family. I noticed that gap. The purpose of Camp Reddy is to host a bereavement camp that will engage the family as a whole.”
The activities will include one-on-one therapy and music therapy with Tito Jackson’s sons.
Bringing Families Together at Camp Reddy
“We will have your regular camp activities—the s’mores, journaling, writing, meditation and yoga,” she said “The goal is to bring together the families who can relate and maintain a connection and continue that relationship outside of the camp.”
That applies to Kimberly as well. During her grief, she volunteered for the Widows, Orphans & Disabled Firefighter’s Fund. She made an appearance at California Pizza Kitchen during a fundraising effort to make sure it went smoothly. She stood proud, too, when Mike was remembered on memorial walls in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Colorado.
“We don’t like going to the cemetery,” she said. “We like going to the wall for special occasions.”
Volunteering for the Firefighter’s Fund was definitely therapeutic, she said, but she needed more.
“This is going to be great,” she said about Camp Reddy. “This is what will solidify his memory.”
Find out more about Camp Reddy
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski