Giggles and jokes, hugs and “knucks” ended the Visiting Nurse Association of NWI’s VNA Camp Phoenix on Sunday afternoon. Children grieving the loss of someone they love, along with volunteers spent a weekend from October 14th to October 16th at the Dunes Learning Center in Chesterton for Camp Phoenix, an extension of the VNA’s bi-weekly support program for children who’ve lost a loved one.
Friday started with the kids getting to know one another through activities, a campfire and settling in to their cabins. The kids brought in pictures of their loved ones to share with the group and created a Memory Board. They shared stories about their loved one that they wanted the others to know. “This was tough for some of the kids, but they supported each other with a very special “Black Cherry” hug, named after one of our cabins,” said VNA Phoenix Center volunteer Tina Christiansen. “That really set the tone for the whole weekend. It was such an honor to be able to accompany them on this weekend long grief journey.”
Saturday opened with traditional camp activities, including a nature hike led by naturalists at the Dunes Learning Center. Along the way, kids had the opportunity to share their experiences with each. “My dad would have loved this!” said one child. “My dad used to take me hiking,” said another.
For children who’ve lost a loved one, it’s comforting to know that they are not alone, not “weird”, that there are other kids just like them who are struggling with grief. They share stories, tears, laughter, and ride out their waves of sorrow together. VNA Camp Phoenix allowed the kids to “just be kids” while doing some important grief work.
“Camp was a great experience for the kids, and for the volunteers,” said Gretchen Seidler-Gibbs, VNA Phoenix Center Supervisor. “The kids were diverse in age, from 7 to 17 and they were so good to each other. They looked out for one another all weekend. It’s affirming for us to see the support they give each other, since that’s one of the goals of the program – support from other kids who understand what they’re going through.”
Nearly every child recounted the Saturday night hike – no flashlights allowed - when asked what was their favorite part of the weekend. The Center’s naturalist led the hike, stopping to make owl calls along the way. As the hike proceeded, a multitude of owls could be heard returning the call along the way. While a little spooky for some, in the end they all felt like they’d done something they would never have done before.
Camp Phoenix wrapped up on Sunday afternoon with a closing ceremony, which included each child placing hearts on the Tree of Hope, drawn by one of the camp participants. Children were asked to write on their hearts words that described themselves, feelings they experienced on their grief journey, someone they rely on for support, and something they look forward to in the future.
Camp Phoenix would not have been possible without the support of donors who “sent a kid to camp” and the dedicated volunteers who spent the weekend with the children.
The VNA Phoenix Center is a program of the Visiting Nurse Association of NWI, providing peer support for grieving children and their families. The VNA Phoenix Center is staffed by specially trained volunteers who facilitate age-appropriate, regularly scheduled peer support sessions and activities. The interaction of the children and volunteers, and the sharing of common experiences and feelings with their peers are life changing. Child to child, they encourage and support each other as their broken hearts mend. Thanks to community support and the volunteer staff, the VNA is able to offer the program free of charge to any family in the community grieving the loss of someone special. For more information about the program, contact the VNA at 219-462-5195 or visit the website at www.VNANWI.org