Milford camp helps grieving children cope

MILFORD — The Delaware Hospice center in Milford was filled with giggles and shrieks of joy Thursday as Camp New Hope participants splashed in kiddie pools and tossed water balloons at each other.

The camp, designed to help grieving children process some of the toughest emotions life can throw their way, saw around 30 children this year in Milford. Another camp was held upstate before the Milford-based session occurred.

“It really is like a large support group with kids their age and they don’t feel alone anymore,” Director Liz Scheer said.

Throughout the week, the campers spend time enjoying fun activities while doing the hard work of learning how to process their grief after losing someone close to them.

“I’m also a child that was in bereavement. My dad died when I was 10. There’s definitely a certain passion I have for these kids,” Ms. Scheer said.

Her own experiences helped direct her to a life of social work and counseling, hoping to guide other kids through the process of pain and healing.

“I hope that they come, have fun, smile and take away added coping skills to their toolbelt, and know that their feelings are all normal and okay,” she added.

Assistant Director Ashley Bonnoni is at camp this year for similar reasons.
“I was interested in the ministry of how it helps the kids. The previous director was my New Hope counselor when I was dealing with my father having epilepsy. It helped with knowing how to cope with the emotions because he wasn’t physically gone, but he wasn’t the same dad, either,” she said.

This is Ms. Bonnoni’s fourth year at the day camp and hopes the campers can learn to work through their situations like she was able to years ago.
“My hope for the kids is that they’ll learn how to process grief better and find a new hope when they come to camp,” she said.

The smiles on the campers’ faces Thursday during the camp’s water day suggested a new hope, indeed.
Despite what they were going through, the children were enjoying the sun and felt free to be themselves at camp.

“At camp, I realized a lot of my good qualities and skills. So, I’m leaving with a lot of confidence. It takes the pressure off of me,” 15-year-old Lonna Macklin said.
“It’s about not judging each other and being helpful when we need it the most. I had hoped I would get something out of it when I got here. I think I did.”

Fellow camper, 15-year-old Lily Yates, said she was nervous when she arrived on Monday, but has had fun during her first week of camp in Milford.
“We made crafts, made a drum out of a bucket and duct tape, spray painted memory boxes and did Zumba. Later, we’re going to break pots and put them back together,” she explained. “I was really close to my dad [who passed away late last year]. It was really hard. I was mad at him. But this taught me that it’s okay to want to continue living my life how it was. It makes me feel better knowing I’m not alone.”

Marketing Communications Coordinator Jennifer Saienni added, “What happens a lot of times is that the kid is grieving at the same time the adult is grieving. Adults can process their emotions but can’t as easily help the kids through theirs. New Hope gives them the words they need. It’s education for the child, as well as the adult.”

Camp New Hope is offered annually to children ages 6-17 free of charge thanks to the hard work of Delaware Hospice’s development team, according to Ms. Scheer.

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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