This summer, Ryan’s Place launched Camp Hope, a day camp for grieving children ages seven through fourteen. Ryan’s Place has had camps in the past but this was a reinvention of previous camps complete with a new name and a new format.
The camp was open to any second through eighth grader who had experienced the death of a loved one at any point in their lives. Through a series of activities and games the campers were encouraged to talk about their loved ones and about their personal experiences with grief.
The camp was held on June 27, which turned out to be a rainy day. The kids however were not fazed by this at all. After some introductions and some icebreakers the kids started their day with making ice cream. While this is definitely a fun which activity it has a therapeutic purpose as well. We used this activity to help the children process the idea of change and how life changes after the death of a loved one. All of the children shared how their lives had changed while they watched the cream base change into ice cream which they later got to eat!
After the ice cream activity the children went from room to room where different therapeutic games and activities we set up for them. The first room was the memory room where the kids were given the opportunity to create a variety of items in memory of their loved one including memory boxes, memory picture frames and memory key chains. Some children made all three. All of the kids were able to share memories about their loved ones as they worked.
After the memory room the campers went to the feelings and emotions room. They worked on an activity where they wrote down all of the things that made them angry about death and grief on a large sheet of paper. They then took the paper and put in through the paper shredder to help them let go of their anger. Next they were given a puzzle piece that they decorated with a feeling that they experiences after the death of their loved one. They then put the pieces together to make a large heart that they connected with band aids. This lead to a discussion of how to help each other heal after a death.
The last room they went to was the coping room. Here the campers played “coping skills bingo” where they were able to learn and talk about different and healthy ways to manage their different emotions. The campers loved playing the game and they all walked away with a fun prize.
The day concluded with a pizza lunch followed by a homemade ice cream dessert. The kids were then given a jar of bubbles and a slip of paper. The campers wrote a message to their loved ones on the paper and then put the paper in the bubbles and watched as it magically dissolved. They then blew bubbles all over the place sending their message up to their loved ones.
Over all the camp was an amazing success. The kids had a great time and they were able to open up and share their grief and experiences with other children. The camp would not have been possible without help from a fantastic group of very passionate and dedicated volunteers! We plan on offering the camp again next summer and hope to continue to grow this camp in the future!