The Hospice and Palliative Care Foundation’s Camp Hands of Hope Program provides 3 yearly in-person weekend camps for children and their families in South Carolina who have lost a loved one. Childhood bereavement is a phenomenon with far-reaching impacts that are often underestimated. It is estimated that 1 in 9 Americans will lose a parent before age 20, and 1 in 7 will lose a sibling. The impact of these losses is profound and lasting, and may include behavioral changes, academic decline, and negative coping. Additionally, many families face significant barriers, including lack of affordable and accessible grief resources in the community. For these reasons, we created this special camp in 2004 in order to provide a safe, caring environment where families can express their feelings and connect with others going through similar experiences. Our camp activities are developed by certified child life specialists to provide the best support to youth and their families. Sometimes, a child's laughter and playfulness masks an inner pain. We recognize that children grieve in many different ways. They want support from their peers and to know that there are others with similar challenges. By giving our participants the tools to process their grief, the camp experience will benefit them long after the weekend has ended.
Since 2007, Camp Hands of Hope has held its winter camp session each February at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach. In addition to family and age-group sessions where participants use art and play to express their feelings about the grieving process, children are able to swim with the stingrays and sleep under the shark tunnel. Maggie Bartashus, from Murrells Inlet, was one of 67 participants at a recent Ripley’s camp session, and had recently lost her father. She was looking forward to making new friends with children that had similar losses, and to experiencing the activities the aquarium had to offer. "It definitely solidifies the fact that you're not alone. Especially as children you know sometimes they can go to school with lots of other kids and they feel that maybe no one else understands them or relates to maybe what they're going through," said Stephanie McCormick, Maggie's mom.
Adults participate in group sessions, which can get emotional. "There's laughs and tears but you come away with a lot of information and happy good memories and great friends too," said Mrs. McCormick. The campers learn to grieve together, "It was so beneficial in terms of understanding each other and where our feelings were and how to better help each other in moving forward with those feelings and emotions.”
Due to the COVID pandemic, for the remainder of 2021 camp sessions will continue to be held in a virtual forum, and we have expanded our efforts to distribute bereavement education resources to school counselors and other professionals working with grieving children and youth. Now, more than ever, we are relying on individuals, corporations, and community foundations throughout the state to help us provide high quality resources and experiences for grieving children and their families. Thank you for your support.