“Good Grief Day Camp gives kids the freedom to think about the person they have lost for three days in a row without distractions from the outside world, without other parts of life getting in the way. I don’t know that they would get that chance without this camp.” – Trudy Ventello, LSW, Coordinator and Co-Founder, Good Grief Day Camp
Organizing a day camp for grieving children while putting in 25 to 30 hours a week as a social worker at Guthrie Hospice is challenging work, but it is worth it, says Trudy Ventello, LSW. Ventello, along with Pat Kirkowski, co-founded Good Grief Day Camp about 20 years ago to help kids ages 6 – 18 who have lost a parent, grandparent, sibling, or other loved one. Since then, 459 children have attended the camp.
“We never imagined when we first started that we’d be doing this for so many years,” Ventello says. The fact that they are is a testament to how needed this resource is.
Guthrie Hospice is a substantial contributor to the camp, which takes place at Vesper Church Spiritual Life Center, in Standing Stone, Pa.
“Guthrie Hospice’s support for the camp is essential,” Ventello says. “They pay for every minute of preparing for it.”
Other camps might break kids into age groups, but at Good Grief Day Camp, “we’re one big happy family,” Ventello says. That means siblings can attend together, older kids can help guide younger ones, and younger kids can help comfort older ones. Some kids attend multiple years and some volunteer as junior counselors to help other kids who are grieving.
The camp has three goals. It aims to help kids:
Understand they are not alone.
Games, activities, and small- and large-group discussions help kids feel heard and understood.
Memorialize a lost loved one.
Every camper makes a memory book that they can fill with photos, drawings, and worksheets related to everything from trips they took with their loved one to their favorite food or music, and more. The book also serves as a way for kids to remember, as the years pass, what made their person special.
“To have this keepsake later is such a gift,” Ventello says. “It’s not just a scrapbook of pictures, it’s a therapeutic book that helps the kids cope and adjust as they go forward.”
Learn coping skills.
Kids learn to express their feelings through outlets like music and poetry. They also share their own strategies for working through difficult emotions with each other, whether it is writing in a journal, doing breathing exercises, hugging a pet, keeping a stuffed animal nearby, or something else. The kids leave with an arsenal of techniques to help them cope, along with the knowledge that they have helped others cope better too.
Thanks to generous donors and events like Golf for Guthrie, which will be held this year on June 21, kids attend Good Grief Day Camp free of charge and receive free breakfast and lunch. This helps kids attend regardless of their family’s income, which is important, because a loved one’s death often affects a family’s finances, Ventello says. It also allows kids from different backgrounds to interact and support each other as equals.
“Their family’s economic situation may have changed drastically after a loved one’s death,” Ventello says,” but they’re never going to feel that while they’re here.”
Some of the children who attend are family members of former Guthrie Hospice patients. This gives Ventello and other social workers the opportunity to “walk the entire walk” with their patients, she says, including caring for the children who loved those patients.
“Those kids can honor their loved one just as we honored them when they went through the hospice program,” Ventello says. “That’s pretty special for me.”
This year’s camp will take place June 18 – 20. For more information or to register or volunteer, call Trudy Ventello at Guthrie Hospice at 570-265-8615.