Camp Erin provides hope and healing for grieving kids

August 28, 2013


Some of the greatest memories of childhood are formed at summer camp. Making new friends, soaking up the warm sun and toasting marshmallows over the campfire are just a few of the things that make summer camp special. 

For the 63 kids at Camp Erin, a weekend in the woods in late August also was a chance to process grief and continue on their path to healing. The campers, ages 6 to 17, share a heartbreaking bond – they have all experienced the loss of someone close to them. Some have lost a parent to illness while others have lost a loved one to violence or suicide. 

Camp Erin is a network of bereavement camps all across the country – established in 2002 in Everett, WA though a partnership with the Moyer Foundations and Providence Hospice. It is named after a remarkable teenager who lost her battle with liver cancer at age 17. Providence Hospice brought the camp to Oregon nine years ago. It is staffed by an amazing group of dedicated volunteers – many of whom have volunteered since the camp’s beginning. In fact, there is a long waiting list for volunteers who want to help at Camp Erin because it is such a unique experience. 

camperinheartsThis year, the campers began the weekend with an activity that gave them instant connections. They divided up into groups based on the type of loss they had experienced. This exercise set the stage for the deep bonds that would solidify over the next two days. 

In addition to swimming, fishing, archery and arts and crafts, the campers participated in several activities that helped them manage their grief and emotions. During a picture frame ceremony, kids decorated photos of their loved ones and told the entire group about the person they were memorializing. Then, they placed the picture on a memory board. Afterwards, many campers commented on how sad, angry, confused and guilty they feel. And they acknowledged the comfort in knowing they are not alone. 

For teens at Camp Erin, the experience is an opportunity to break down silos and bond with others who may be part of different social cliques in high school. They support one another and provide a comforting voice when no one else understands. 

The weekend concludes with each camper releasing a candlelit luminary onto a moonlit pond – a symbolic gesture of letting go of the past and moving forward into the future, fueled by the light of their loved one, deep in their heart.