As 26 children who had recently lost someone dear to them arrived at Camp Safe Harbor on Monday for an opening family party, many of them fought back tears or stood quietly behind their parents. But by Thursday afternoon’s butterfly release and closing activity, laughter filled the air, hugs were freely given, and the only tears were those of not wanting camp to end.
For the third year, Camp Safe Harbor, a bereavement day camp for children ages 6 to 12 held at Salisbury University, became a safe and loving place for children to heal and open up about their loss.
Coastal Hospice staff and volunteers and SU Social Work Department’s staff and students joined together to run the annual camp, where counselors experienced in grief support helped the children work through the loss of a parent, grandparent, sibling, or loved one. Fun activities such as weight lifting, video making, support circles, poetry, art, and sports activities helped each child heal in their own unique way.
Stephanie Moreno of Salisbury sent her two daughters, ages 9 and 10, to Camp Safe Harbor, because they were not only dealing with the loss of their grandfather but also with a recent accident that had left their father with a traumatic brain injury, unable to speak.
“It’s been quite a journey for us,” Moreno said. “My daughters have had a lot to deal with in their little lives. Camp appealed to me because I felt like I hadn’t been able to attend to their grief over their grandfather since my husband’s accident. I didn’t feel like I was able to help them through it.”
Moreno believes the camp was a deeply meaningful experience for her daughters.
“They got to see other kids who were grieving in the same way and getting through it. And that it was okay to talk about it. They made friends and felt comfortable sharing their story. They talked with me about what they did each day, how in the weight room, they learned they could lift more weight together than they could by themselves.
“Plus they had fun. Camp was a nice blend of fun and deep meaning. A lot of hands and hearts came together to make this happen,” she continued.
Camp organizers from both Coastal Hospice and Salisbury University praised the benefits of the camp and the partnership between the two organizations.
“Children who have lost someone close to them grieve in a very different way from adults,” Sharon Hutchison, manager for Spiritual Care Services at Coastal Hospice and an organizer of the event, said. “They often find it harder to express their feelings. At Camp Safe Harbor, by joining other children who have experienced a similar loss, we saw the children work at dealing with their grief, as they were able to talk about it rather than hold it inside.”
“This camp is such an amazing partnership between Coastal Hospice and the Social Work Department at SU,” Dr. Kimberly Van Vulpen, assistant professor of social work at the university and a member of the Camp Safe Harbor planning team, said. “The connections that are made between the children and all the camp staff are what makes Camp Safe Harbor so helpful. The children can arrive each day to camp, share, have lots of fun, and know that everyone there understands a bit of their story. They no longer have to feel different.”
By the final day of camp, the friendships and bonds formed during the week were evident. Children consoled one another and exchanged phone numbers. They wrote messages on one another’s T-shirts and gave doting cuddles to the resident pet therapy dog.
Camp Safe Harbor will be available again for children in June 2018. Please contact Coastal Hospice for more information.
PRESS1 — Coastal Hospice counselor Janelle Beiler, camp director, helps a camper release a Monarch butterfly during the closing ceremonies on Thursday.
PRESS 2 – Brother and sister campers supported each other during camp after losing their father.
PRESS 3 – Counselor Courtney Gum, Coastal Hospice social worker, works with two campers, helping them remember positive things about their loved one.