Camp Jojo to honor former student

Mother of Jojo Greenberg creates camp for teens affected by suicide


Photo courtesy of Sonya Spielberg

Camp Jojo’s mission is to form a unique community of teenagers who have lost loved ones to suicide. The camp will be held in honor of Jojo, who Spielberg said always saw camp as a “special place.”

By Katie Hanson

Content warning: This article contains language that pertains to suicide.

Camp Jojo, an outdoor summer camp designed to help support teens affected by suicide, will be held this July in honor of former student Jojo Greenberg. Her mother, Sonya Spielberg, and her former camp director, Joel Van Egbert, organized the camp in hopes of connecting a unique community of teens and helping them heal.

The camp will be held at the Cal-Wood Education Center, a 1,200 acre campground right outside of Boulder, Colorado. Spielberg said the camp will center on outdoor activities, something Jojo loved.

“Jojo’s most healing place was nature. She just loved it,” Spielberg said. “Being away from social media will connect these kids in a positive way, so they’ll have each other. After the camp they’ll have a group to bond with.”

Last summer, Spielberg, with the help of several friends including Van Egbert, planned a memorial hike in honor of Jojo on a mountain her daughter used to hike with their family and as a camper at Keystone Science School, a sleepaway camp she attended from ages seven to 12. At Keystone, Jojo was known for her joyful spirit, and she often comforted other campers who were homesick, Spielberg said.

She invited former campers, counselors and the camp director, Van Egbert, on the hike. At the top of the

Last summer, Spielberg and Van Egbert organized a summit of Mount Royal with campers and staff from Jojo’s childhood camp. Maddie Markel, one of Jojo’s close friends and fellow camper, surprised the group by carrying colored chalk on the summit and handing it out to the group at the peak. Spielberg said color and rainbows have become a symbol of Jojo, and that the moment atop the mountain was “magical.”

mountain, the group threw colored chalk in the air as a celebration of life. They also shared stories about Jojo, and Van Egbert shared his idea to form Camp Jojo to help teens who have lost loved ones to suicide.

“I just had this electric feeling when he said it,” Spielberg said. “I had been searching for a way to put all the sorrow and grief into something positive, and I just knew when he said it that this was it.”

Van Egbert said he came up with the idea on the hike when he reflected on Jojo as a camper. He said she was “the brightest star.”

“It was on the hike where it was like just something has to be done. I can’t just stand by and let this continue to happen without at least feeling like at the end of the day, I did something,” Van Egbert said. “Camp is the only tool that I have to hopefully make change for good in the world, so that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

The two co-founders began planning the camp this January. Van Egbert has helped establish other new camps, but this is the first camp he’s created from the ground up.  

The camp is focused on transforming grief into joy through a supportive community.

“The hope is that we can create a real community. If these kids that are part of the program do need to reach out, they have 19 other awesome people that they can reach out to,” Van Egbert said. “If they’re with a friend that’s not even part of the camp, hopefully these kids will leave Camp Jojo feeling like they have tools to support and comfort and reach out to the people around them.”

The partners created a GoFundMe account in February to raise money for the camp with the hope that a group of around 20 campers aged 13 to 16 will attend for free. The pair set a fundraising goal of $20,000.

Spielberg sent the link to juniors Justin Chen, Leo Ritter and Chris Bartholomew, who were friends of Jojo. In the 24 hours after they shared it on their social media, the fundraiser raised an additional $1,500, most of which came from teenagers and their family members. The campaign now has over $9,000. Spielberg said she has consistently felt an “outpouring of love and support” from the Whitman community.

“It made mine and so many other people’s hearts full,” Spielberg said. “People remember her and they will remember her, and they want to do something, not just for her, for everyone who’s suffering.”

The camp includes Jojo’s favorite activities: painting, white water rafting, hiking, yoga, meditation and lots of messy glitter craft projects. Campers will also silently summit a mountain, until they reach the peak, where they will share who they dedicated their hike to and throw colored chalk in the air, similarly to the hike last year, to honor their lost loved ones. Spielberg and Van Egbert want the camp to be cathartic for everyone involved.

Van Egbert plans to incorporate intentional programminga method to incorporate larger life lessons within simple activitiesin the camp, he said.

Joel Van Egbert was Jojo’s camp director at Keystone Science School when she attended the camp from ages 7 to 12. Campers were awarded beads for positive behavior, and one year Jojo won the highest award, the shark tooth from Van Egbert.

“A lot of camps don’t think about how a game of kickball can teach a life lesson, and that’s how we think of everything that we do,” Van Egbert said. “Jojo just really bought into that. She was always looking for deeper or higher meaning to the different things that we did at camp. That’s part of what we connected with. I think everyone wants someone to understand their work, and Jojo just always got it.”

Although the camp isn’t focused on mental health, the co-founders plan to include mental health counselors and therapists. Other counselors are volunteers; many are Spielberg’s relatives. Spielberg said her four sisterstwo of which are a doctor and grief counselor all plan on volunteering. Each camper will be paired with a volunteer counselor, who will act as a mentor. Van Egbert hopes this pairing will give both the mentors and the campers a chance to help each other cope and bond.

Junior Kate Snedeker helped Spielberg spread the word about the camp and GoFundMe earlier this year and plans to host a bake sale this month to continue fundraising.

Snedeker and Spielberg often send each other texts of places and events that remind them of Jojo, she said: a picturesque sunset, a hummingbird, a brand with the name Jojo in the store’s sign.

In November, Snedeker organized a team in honor of Jojo for the Out of the Darkness walk, which raises awareness for suicide prevention. She wants to attend the camp for the same reasons she created a Team Jojo for the walk: to honor her friend and help other people who are dealing with grief, Snedeker said.

“I read on the website ‘we want to share Jojo’s favorite things: joy, laughter, smiles and hugs. She was one of the happiest, most passionate people I knew,” Snedeker said. “It made it even more difficult, but it also makes it even better in this sense that we get to live her happy life. I try to live my life to the fullest in the way that she would.”

Now, Spielberg and Van Egbert are in the process of obtaining their 501c3 so they can officially be labeled a non-profit. Several camp companies have reached out to them about starting their own Camp Jojo’s in subsequent summers. Although organizing the camp with a full-time job has been difficult, Spielberg said she finally feels like she’s “on the right path.”

“This is how we’re going to help. It’s a really good way to memorialize her as well because I know she’ll be there,” Spielberg said. “She’s always there in the mountains in Colorado. I know she’ll be looking down on us and smiling.”


Link to go fund me:


If you’re interested in becoming involved with Camp Jojo as a camper or volunteer, or starting another branch of Camp Jojo, reach out to Joel Van Egbert ([email protected]) or Sonya Spielberg ([email protected]). Volunteers for Camp Jojo must be 20 or older and campers will be ages 13 – 16.