Niagara Hospice's Camp Hope helps grieving children cope with loss
Samantha Tremko lost her mom suddenly when she was just 7 years old.
Her family was just settling down from a family vacation in Florida, making the long drive home to North Tonawanda. After dropping grandparents off at their home, Samantha's mom, Robin, suffered a blood clot to the heart.
Samantha's whole world suddenly changed.
A year following her loss, Samantha's father, Robert Tremko, told her she was going to Camp Hope. When the day came to leave for camp in the summer of 2002, she didn't want to go - she didn't want to leave her father.
Three days later, Samantha didn't want to leave Camp Hope.
Today, Tremko says she enjoyed every aspect of the Camp Hope experience and that it helped her then, and continues to help now - 12 years later.
When someone loses a loved one, it seems nothing is right with the world. The sorrow that follows can be debilitating for anyone, and grief for a child can be a confusing process. To address the special needs of grieving children, Niagara Hospice established Camp Hope in 2001.
"It's helpful for children who have lost a loved one through death to have an outlet that enables them to express their grief," says Lori Pusateri, MS, LMHC, and Camp Hope director. "Whether it's the death of a parent, grandparent, sibling or a special friend, dealing with the loss is beyond the experience of most children, and their reaction is often overlooked in the activity surrounding the death. It's natural for family members to want to protect their children from hurting; (they) may feel that talking about the loss might worsen their grief."
Niagara Hospice is offering its 14th Camp Hope for grieving children from June 27-29 at the YMCA's Camp Kenan in Barker. Children ages 7 to 13 throughout Western New York who have lost a loved one through death - whether or not they ever received Hospice care - are invited to attend the free camp.
During the camp weekend, children will learn to express their grief through many activities, such as creative movement therapy, musical expression, arts and crafts, pet visits, and a memorial bonfire. Outdoor recreation such as rock wall climbing, making and eating S'mores around the campfire, swimming and nature walks are also enjoyed. Professional counselors, trained volunteers, and a nurse who is on hand for the entire weekend staff Camp Hope.
Tremko is now 20 and a student of social work at Niagara University.
"Camp Hope inspired me to seek a career in grief counseling," she says. "When I attended camp 12 years ago, I learned that I was not alone; that there is a support system for me and for the other kids I met who were grieving like me."
So inspired by Camp Hope, Tremko has registered to be a volunteer for this year's camp.
"I'm really excited to volunteer and be able to return what I've received from Camp Hope," she says. "The experience was life-changing and, if I can now change just one person's life, it will be one of the most rewarding things I can do as I pursue a career in grief counseling."
For a free camp application, call the Niagara Hospice bereavement department at 716-280-0777 or visit the "Our Services" tab at www.NiagaraHospice.org for printable forms. Applications must be received by Tuesday, June 17. Applications also are available online for men and women interested in volunteering for the camp weekend - whether it's for a few hours or for the whole weekend. Training for camp volunteers is Saturday, May 31. Call 716-280-0777 for more information or to register.
Camp Hope is free and entirely funded by local service clubs, organizations, individuals and grants. It is sponsored in part by the Middle Chamber Society, Lockport City Fire Fighters Ball, Optimist International, Micro Graphics, UB Family Medicine and Wegmans Supermarket on Military Road. To sponsor a camper, call the Niagara Hospice Alliance development office at 716-439-4417.