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Camp helps grieving children heal

Whether screaming through the air, writing a song or making a craft, the kids came to Journeys camp to help express their feelings of loss in whatever way they can.

The all-day outdoor Journeys bereavement camp, under the auspice of the Hospice of the Piedmont, returned to Triple C Camp on Saturday. About 30 kids who have suffered the loss of loved one descended on the property just outside of Charlottesville as the camp returned to its full-day, in-person format for the first time since fall 2019.

The camp is typically offered twice a year and is one of several ways that hospice organization works to help children who have been affected by the death of a loved one.

Alex, a third-grader at Ware Elementary School in Staunton, said she felt connected to others at the camp because “they know how I’m feeling.”

“I try to be kind all the time,” she said. “Making people happy is my priority. I’m following in my dad’s footsteps.”

She said that not everyone is the same and that she liked being different. In one of the sessions, she wrote a poem to share with the group as a way to offer comfort to others.

“To all the girls out there who feel lost and alone, just remember there’s always going to be someone who feels you,” Alex said, reciting some of her poem.

Throughout the day, she encouraged others and said she wanted to send the message that girls can do anything they can put their minds to.

She would recommend the camp to others.

“It’s fun and you get to be with people who understand you,” she said.

The camp is free for families in the organization’s 12-county service area, regardless of whether a family member was cared for by Hospice of the Piedmont, according to its website.

The nonprofit also offers online support groups for teenagers and individual art therapy sessions along with school groups as needed. All of the organization’s bereavement support programs for children and teens are under the Hospice of the Piedmont’s Center for Children.

The camp and other services are supported by donations.

The camp’s big idea is to help children talk about their feelings, share memories and learn coping skills, said Kacie Karafa, who coordinates the Journeys program. She’s been running the camp and working with children who have experienced a loss for 20 years.

Karafa said the grief support program has seen an uptick since late 2021. Some of the children receiving support experienced a death related to COVID. Others know someone who died by suicide.

The Center for Children has a waiting list for its program, but it’s not a long one, Karafa said and for some families, the Journeys camp is all they’ll do.

Karafa said she has seen children transform during their day at camp as they find support and camaraderie with others who experienced a loss.

“It’s fun to see them smiling and making friends,” she said.

The basic structure of the camp hasn’t changed much over the years, though this year included a drum circle and play therapists from universities in the region.

“It feels like anybody can benefit from this camp,” she said. “Kids are dealing with a significant loss and all the other stuff going on.”

Karafa said the camp’s goal is to give children different opportunities to express themselves, whether through music, art or play. During the day, children also get chances to talk about the person they lost and their feelings. The day wrapped up with a healing circle after each group participated in each activity.

For the students, a highlight was the flying squirrel activity in which they were attached to a rope and pulled in the air by their peers.

“They are going to help us and we are going to help them,” a Triple C counselor explained to one group.

Gage, a third-grader at Nathanael Greene Elementary School in Greene County, loved the flying squirrel and the camp overall.

While participating in an art activity earlier in the day, he said felt loved as the group made hearts and talked over feelings. Gage said he also would recommend the camp to other children who have lost a loved one.

“You could meet more people like me,” he said.

Before snack time and the healing circle, Gage and Alex’s group had one last stop: the music cabin. Inside, the group made a cacophony of music as the children rotated around a circle and played different instruments.

Once the instruments were sufficiently tested and played, the group gathered to write a song at the guidance of Cathy Bollinger, a certified music therapist in the area.

Alex kicked off the brainstorm by suggesting the opening line, “we’ve all lost someone important in our lives.”

Then the rest of the verses came together as the children worked together.

“I miss you so much/I wish you hadn’t died,” the group sang. “I’m so tired of you being gone/That’s why I singing this song. Your memory will stay right in my heart/Even through you are gone, we are not apart.”

For more information about the Center for Children’s programs or to donate, go to


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