Bridgeton, NJ (August 30) – The 30 children and teens, wearing colorful kaleidoscope decorated t-shirts, who gathered together at Camp Edge in Alloway, N.J. recently all had one common purpose: to honor their lost loved ones and learn ways to help heal their pain.
South Jersey Healthcare HospiceCare’s third annual Camp Kaleidoscope gave children who have experienced the death of a loved one an opportunity to meet other children who are grieving which decreases their feelings of isolation. “In addition to the tremendous sadness children feel after losing someone they love, they also feel different from their peers,” said Linda Kandle, HospiceCare’s Bereavement Coordinator. Michelle Roberts of Woodstown whose son Daniel attended the camp said, “Daniel now realizes there are other children who have experienced a loss and he is not alone.”
The day included a variety of art and expressive activities, trust building games and therapeutic exercises that educate children about the grief process. The morning activities which included a low ropes course conducted by Camp Edge counselors facilitated trust of and connectedness to one another. The ropes course was fun and mildly challenging which was a metaphor for the challenge of grieving. The children were divided into groups by age. These groups were facilitated by professional Hospice social workers and trained bereavement volunteers.
“During the camp, children learn coping techniques and strategies to get through the difficult days ahead,” said Heather Headley, a Hospice staff Social Worker. “It’s important for those who are grieving, children and adults alike, to find ways to express their grief,” Headley said.
“Many in our society believe that crying and feeling their pain is a sign of weakness,” added Kandle. “We see children and their families trying to protect one another by holding back their feelings, not talking about the loss.”
“After the bonding that develops with the kids from the ropes course, they find it easier to share their stories of losing a parent, grandparent, sibling, friend,” stated staff social worker Maryann Cornwell. “Sharing and being heard validates their pain so when they leave camp they are more open to talking about the loss. Grieving and expressing that grief is what heals.”
Sandy Penn of Elmer agrees. She said that since her daughter, Jacel, attended the camp she has a “better outlook on life” and feels that what she learned at camp has “strengthened her mentally”.
Some parents notice differences in their child’s behavior at home. Cathy Massie of Millville said since the camp her son Tyler “has been helping more around the house and is trying to be more patient with others”.
In addition to the structured activities, there is free time to allow children to play ball, visit with the therapy dog or just talk and get to know others in their group. Campers are given small journals so they can exchange addresses and phone numbers. At the end of the day, parents arrive for a family barbecue which gives them an opportunity to meet other grieving families and the staff of Camp Kaleidoscope. They are given a packet of educational materials on the grieving process.
“When I arrived for the barbecue in the evening, I saw a young boy who I had observed in the morning as we waited for transportation to the Camp. He looked very anxious and scared,” explained Cathy Massie. “But when I saw him at the barbecue, he was laughing and happily interacting with the other kids. I gave him a high 5 and told him ‘way to go’.”
Indeed, this is the goal of the camp to let children know there is a way to go through their grief and become stronger and more resilient. The free camp is supported by donations from individuals, community organizations and businesses.
SJH is a nonprofit, integrated health care system, providing access to a continuum of health services. SJH provides hospital services, numerous community health clinics, home health services, and specialty services, which serve the medical and health care needs of Southern New Jersey residents.