Camp Monarch

Submitted by Julie Hurlbert, LCSW
Family Support Specialist

Having the opportunity to be a part of Camp Monarch at Covenant Hospice has been a great pleasure.  I have met so many wonderful children who are an inspiration.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I was preparing for camp.  I have been involved in many types of camps as a child and teenager, but I have never been involved in a bereavement camp before.  Camp season started out in Tallahassee at the Beau Turner Youth Conservation Center on September 15.  Twenty-four children were present and were able to participate in a variety of fun and therapeutic activities including fishing, face painting, feelings bracelets, and painting flower pots in honor of their loved one.  This experience was exhausting, but entirely rewarding.  I met such amazing children who were not only excited, but proud to share stories of their loved ones and were open to discussing their feelings regarding their loss.  The Pensacola/Milton camp was held on September 29 at the Gulf Breeze Zoo.  We had eleven children participate that day.  Activities included a tour of the zoo, train ride, decorating paper rocks with memories of their loved one and placing them on “memory lane”.  The kids were so expressive of their thoughts and memories and enjoyed not only writing about them, but also drawing pictures to depict particular memories that were important to them.  The Niceville/Crestview camp was also held at the Gulf Breeze Zoo on October 6.  They also got to tour the zoo, ride the train, and make collages.  The kids all seemed so engaged in the camp and eager to talk about their loved ones.  I was particularly touched by some of the pictures drawn by the children.  One little girl drew a picture of her dad and herself playing baseball in the yard.  She told me that she will always remember how he taught her to play.  Another little boy drew a picture of his father being driven away in an ambulance.  I know this was a difficult thing for him to think about and discuss with me, but it was important for this little boy to share this memory.  The final camp was held at Seacrest Wolf Preserve on October 13 for the Panama City/Marianna areas.  The twenty-five kids who participated that day were permitted to walk amongst the wolves along with other small animals.  They also had the opportunity to create memory bracelets.  It was amazing to see how these children connected with the animals and with the story of the wolf , Spirit, who has overcome challenges, as well as experienced the loss of his mate.  The children all appeared to connect with this story and how Spirit has continued to live on with his family.

Overall, this experience was a humbling one for me.  I have worked with many people and their concerns, but I have never had a more personal experience as I did this year working with all of the children at the Camp Monarchs.  They have taught me a great deal about life, death, and coping.  Many of us know kids who have or are experiencing a loss and feel overwhelmed or unsure how to interact with them, but I have found that most importantly they just want to be heard, share their memories, and be permitted to grieve in their own way.  Camp Monarch has been a great experience for me and for all of the children who were present at all of the camps.  The kids were reminded that they are not alone and people care about them.  Isn’t that exactly what we all want?

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