What a Difference a Day Makes

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By Rafael J. Sciullo, MA, LCSW, MS

Despite the hustle and bustle, the room is pretty quiet first thing in the morning.

The arts and crafts tables are set. T-shirts are ready for distribution. About 40 chairs are arranged in a large circle. And the registration table is prepared to be the first stop for campers and their loved ones.

Shortly before 9 a.m., they begin to make their way into the auditorium at The Center for Compassionate Care in Mt. Lebanon. Staff and volunteers are already on-site as they greet our campers and their parents or guardians with warm smiles and friendly reassurance.

Family Hospice and Palliative Care’s Camp Healing Hearts is an annual free day camp for children in the community who are coping with the loss of a loved one. Now held in four locations each year, Camp Healing Hearts offers kids a vehicle to cope with their grief through a variety of activities and interactions. Our most recent Camp took place October 6 in Mt. Lebanon.

Camp Healing Hearts campers Megan, Kiley and Brayden enjoy time bonding with therapy dogs.
Camp Healing Hearts campers Megan, Kiley and Brayden enjoy time bonding with therapy dogs.

Despite the welcome they get upon entry, most campers are a little timid when they arrive, to say the least. That is soon remedied, though, thanks to our ice breaker activity which kicks off the day. Smiles and laughter abound as participants share stories and interests. The day continues with interactive art and music sessions, a visit by pet therapy dogs, the creation of memory boxes, and more.

The transformation we witness in our campers over the course of the day is truly touching. And to know that their parents and guardians appreciate the value in Camp makes it all worthwhile.

During lunchtime, one of our Family Hospice staffers sat with a mother who had brought her son and daughter, Brayden and Ryleigh, to Camp. The mother, Becky, explained that her husband had died about six months earlier.

“How has today’s experience been for you and your children so far?” our staffer asked.

“I am so happy we are here, this is tremendous” Becky replied. “My kids were a little nervous in the car on the way here, because we didn’t fully know what to expect. But I could tell immediately that they were enjoying their experience. Your Camp was recommended by our school district and I am so happy we are here. This is really good for Brayden and Ryleigh.”

And we at Family Hospice are grateful for the opportunity to witness that at every Camp Healing Hearts – which commemorated a decade of healing this year.  Campers often bond throughout the day, making new friends. They’ve even been known to exchange phone numbers and stay in touch afterward.

Year after year, our staff is thrilled to see the transformation in our campers throughout the day. These precious children start the day feeling nervous and shy. But as they make their way through the day’s activities and interact with our Camp counselors, they open up, share, smile and connect.

The greatest satisfaction in Camp Healing Hearts is the knowledge that our campers and their loved ones walk away knowing they are not alone in their grief – that others share their experiences and that support and healing are real and tangible.

What better comments could we hope to hear than what Becky shared? It is our privilege to make a difference in the lives of our campers.

Rafael J. Sciullo, MA, LCSW, MS, is President and CEO of Family Hospice and Palliative Care and Past Chairperson of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. He may be reached at rsciullo@familyhospice.com or (412) 572-8800. Family Hospice and Palliative Care serves nine counties in Western Pennsylvania. More information at www.FamilyHospice.com and www.facebook.com/FamilyHospicePA.