Colorado grief camp for kids overcomes pandemic challenges in first-ever ‘virtual summer camp’

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DENVER (KDVR) – They’d hoped to zoom to the mountains for a weekend at summer camp. Instead, a group of Colorado kids logged onto Zoom, and attended their first ever virtual grief camp.

Camp Erin Denver is one of dozens of bereavement camps across the country, providing support for young people grieving the death of someone important in their life. Children ages 6-17 normally spend one weekend a year in the outdoors, taking part in camp activities intermingled with grief education and emotional support. But this year, because of the pandemic, in-person camp was cancelled. Still, organizers knew they had to do something.

“Children still grieve, whether we’re in person or whether we’re virtual. Children still grieve, and I think it’s really important for our organization to give kids the support that they need,” Barb Kamlet said, executive director of Shimmering Wings, the local non-profit that plans Camp Erin Denver every year.

So the group gathered a couple dozen grieving children online Saturday for their first-ever virtual camp. The children in attendance were grieving the loss of parents and other loved ones from causes like cancer, homicide, suicide and accidental overdose.

“This is my dad,” Sophie, 13, said holding up a picture of her father. “He died of stage four kidney cancer, and one of my favorite memories is just him telling all of these jokes that made everyone in my family laugh,” she added.

“I’m remembering my daddy,” Henry, 5, said. “I remember the bad guys punching his muscles,” he added. His father died from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

With the help of volunteers from Camp Erin Tampa Bay, organizers came up with online grief activities. And they brought in a professional percussionist who travels the country teaching kids how to express grief through music. Josh Robinson logged in via Zoom from his Pennsylvania home.

“When I’m having a bad day, I come home and I put it all into the drum and it might sound like this,” Robinson said, banging his drum.

“What I learned is that music was the way for me to speak. The way for me to heal,” he added.

“He has so much energy and connection to the kids, and he has a great vehicle to help the kids explore their grief,” Kamlet said.

Healing doesn’t come easy for young kids who’ve lost one of the most important people in their life. But for a few hours during virtual summer camp, they were surrounded by other children facing the same kind of grief. And they had the chance to tell their story, and honor and remember that special person who died too soon.

If you’d like to donate to send kids to next year’s Camp Erin Denver grief camp, or if you’d like to be a volunteer at next year’s camp, visit their website.

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