FPH’s Child and Family Bereavement Program Makes Memories at Camp

This summer, twelve special families packed up their cars and headed to East Texas to share a memorable camping weekend. However, this camping experience ran deeper than traditional campfires, s’mores, chasing fireflies and stargazing. These families sought solace and joy from the great outdoors after suffering the loss of a loved one.

Forefront Living Foundation and teammates were honored to partner with Eluna, the founding organization for Camp Erin®, the largest national bereavement program for children and teens ages 6-17 who have experienced the death of someone close to them. Led by bereavement professionals and caring volunteers, the camp is offered at no cost to families and provides a safe environment to explore their grief, learn essential coping skills and make friends with peers who are also grieving.

Because of this partnership with Eluna, campers and their family members were able to attend Camp Erin DFW as part of the organization’s first family camp program. Nestled in the Piney Woods of East Texas, Camp Gilmont was the perfect setting for Camp Erin DFW, allowing these extraordinary families to unplug and spend time together while participating in games, ziplining, hiking, canoeing and swimming. The serene backdrop also provided an ideal location for therapeutic group sessions, where families shared their grief and participated in healing experiences.

While the weekend was filled with many wonderful moments, the memorial activities sprinkled throughout the camping experience were especially unforgettable. An introductory Memory Board Ceremony provided campers with a unique platform to share memories and a favorite photo of those they wanted to remember. During group therapy sessions, children and adults decorated luminaries honoring their lost loved ones. On Saturday evening, as the sun was setting and silence encompassed the wooded retreat, campers observed a solemn event in which they took turns releasing their luminaries over the lake near their campsite. As part of the weekend’s closing ceremony, participants hiked to the “Chapel in the Sky,” where they enjoyed a magnificent view of the entire campground and beyond. There, families tied a piece of colorful, torn fabric with their loved one’s name written on it, to a camp “memory catcher.” These moving and emotional activities directed by trained professionals, helped to normalize the grief experience for the children, reminding them that they are not alone.

Faith Presbyterian Hospice Child Life Specialist, Erica Smith, shared that watching the relationship transformation between campers was uplifting. “Friday evening began with a quiet, nervous energy as everyone settled in. By Sunday, the energy was BIG and joyful. Families were exchanging contact information and campers were signing each other’s t-shirts.” Families can look forward to reconnecting at an August reunion, potentially planned at a Texas Rangers game.

Forefront Living is grateful to the generous organizations and volunteers who provided comfort kits to each Camp Erin DFW family. Comfort kits included personalized camper blankets donated by Project Linus, stuffed bears, hand-crafted by Presbyterian Village North’s sewing group, the Sew ‘N Sews, pop-its, a grief book called My Favorite Color is Blue, donated by the author Roger Hutchison, journals and glow in the dark bracelets. Additionally, New York Life – Frisco branch, donated snacks and drinks to families to enjoy on the ride home from camp. To learn more about Eluna or register for programs, click here.