Grief and Bereavement, Volunteers

First-Ever Camp BEAR HUG Helps Nature Coast Children Understand Grief

October 25, 2019
A group of children doing arts and crafts at a picnic table

At Camp BEAR HUG, children sent messages to their loved ones from hand written notes to bubbles in the air.

At the inaugural VITAS Healthcare Camp BEAR HUG in High Springs, Florida, children ages 5-14 took part in activities, games and crafts to help them learn about the grief they feel over the loss of a loved one.

Twelve VITAS volunteers and 12 staff members offered up their free Saturday on October 12 to share in the experience of helping children who are coping with grief, says Carole “Joy” Dias, camp coordinator and bereavement services manager for VITAS in the Nature Coast.

Camp BEAR HUG activities are based on Helping Understand Grief through:

  • Bereavement
  • Education
  • Affirmation
  • Resources

The 10 campers, from from Alachua and surrounding Florida counties, gathered at Poe Springs Park. The day's activities were aimed at helping them learn how to express grief, to understand that it is OK to talk about their feelings and to help them build effective grief-coping strategies.

Dancing, face painting and rock painting added elements of fun that helped campers enjoy the day and interact with peers.

“It was a truly meaningful event,” Dias says. “The staff and volunteers were dedicated to the mission, and everyone was really engaged.”

A Place to Share Grief, Cope and Have Fun

Three children smile at the camera

Activities like face painting helped campers enjoy the day and interact with peers.

One of the most beneficial outcomes, according to Dias, was the opportunity for children to meet and talk with other children who have lost a loved one and to hear how their peers find ways to cope with their own loss and sadness.

Guidelines: How to Help a Grieving Child

During the day’s final activity, children wrote messages on dissolvable paper and placed the messages in a bubble solution. Once the paper messages dissolved, children blew bubbles into the air, sending their messages to their loved ones.

At an afternoon session for parents of campers, VITAS Social Worker Mary Whitehurst described the day’s activities and explained how they support an understanding of grief. She also answered parents’ questions about grief and provided support to help them cope with their own feelings of loss and bereavement.

A First for VITAS in the Nature Coast

In September 2018, VITAS began serving Citrus County and the Nature Coast, an area that includes 13 counties stretching from Homosassa north to Georgia.

“We definitely look forward to expanding this camp next year,” Dias says, “not only for children related to our VITAS hospice families but for any child in this community who has experienced a loss.”

A small group gathers on a path in a forested part of the park

Campers stopped at different points along a trail walk to discuss various topics related to loss.

Two people pet a Golden Retriever

A Paw Pals® dog was happy to provide additional furry comfort..

A small group does arts and crafts at a table

Children engaged in a variety of crafts, such as rock painting, to help them cope with grief.