Camp Bridges, Love Builds Bridges Where There Are None
November 16th is Children’s Grief Awareness Day, a day dedicated to helping people learn about the ways they can support a grieving child. In Canada, over 203,000 children will experience the death of someone in their extended family; with 1 in 14 experiencing the death of a parent or sibling. In recognition of Children’s Grief Awareness Day, the Prairie Mountain Health Palliative Care Program would like to share information about Camp Bridges.
What brought together the 40 children and youth who attended Camp Bridges 2023? It may have been sitting around the fire eating smores, staying up late into the night giggling, coming up with a cabin cheer or participating in fun activities like ziplining and horseback riding. But – more likely – it was the shared knowledge that each of them has experienced the death of someone they love.
Camp Bridges is a children’s bereavement camp organized by the Palliative Care Program at Prairie Mountain Health. It is open to any child in Manitoba, aged 7-15 years old, who is grieving the death of someone significant in their life. Camp Bridges provides a safe environment where campers have the opportunity to interact and share their feelings with other children who are in similar circumstances. While the camp is not designed to provide grief therapy, Campers learn to understand their grief as a normal experience, recognize they are not alone and have the chance to “just be a kid again”.
In 2023, Camp Bridges was hosted at Circle Square Ranch, a beautiful Western-inspired space with ample sunshine and a variety of fun activities. Upon arrival, Campers were welcomed by smiling volunteers and had the opportunity to choose from an assortment of donated comfort items, including: a hand-made blanket/stuffy from Project Linus, a knitted hug scarf from Palliative Manitoba and a bag of camping goodies from Shine Through The Rain Foundation. Campers said goodbye to parents and caregivers, who were sent home with a resource package to help them understand and support their child’s grief.
After checking in, Campers head to their cabins to unpack and get to know their cabin mates. It is astonishing how quickly the children form bonds with each other by sharing their name and the reason they have come to this special camp. Campers are invited to create a picture frame and display a photo of their person on the Wall of Memories. This activity provides children with an opportunity to talk about the person who died, share favorite memories and form connections with other grieving children. As they look upon the wall, filled with photos of parents, siblings, grandparents, friends and other important people, they know they are not alone in the experience of losing someone special.
Camp Bridges offers all the things expected from a summer camp, including: ziplining, archery, mess hall meals, horseback riding, outdoor games and lots of laughter and fun. Sprinkled in alongside are memorial activities that teach children about grief, allow them to acknowledge their loss and find support in one another and camp volunteers. Memorial activities include: creating a memory box, writing on HOPE stones and sewing a pillow made from their loved one’s clothing. As an annual Camp Bridges tradition, a memorial service was held where children could light a candle for their special person in a space of shared reflection, empathy and support. These activities help children maintain a continued connection with the person who died and lets them know that death ‘ends life, but not love’.
Campers had the opportunity participate in sessions of art therapy, with Pipestone Art Therapy and music therapy, with Satori Counselling & Expressive Arts Therapy. These activities help children connect to their emotions and express them through creative outlets and physical movement. Children learn that grief is a natural and normal response to loss, and that expressing their feelings can help. Finally, it was time to close out Camp Bridges with a butterfly release ceremony. Campers and their families gathered in a large circle to release Monarch butterflies. It was in that moment of watching the butterflies take flight, that one could grasp the profound impact Camp Bridges had on these young grievers and their families.
Camp Bridges is facilitated by a dedicated group of volunteers who give their time, energy and heart to create the warm and fun-filled atmosphere. Cabin leaders are responsible for ensuring Campers get to scheduled activities and provide care and guidance throughout the weekend. A second crew of volunteers help children sew memory pillows, a treasured keepsake that will comfort them for years to come. Volunteers are trained in recognizing and supporting the unique ways that children grieve. Finally, Camp Coordinators, made up of staff from PMH Palliative Care, provide camp oversight and nursing duties for the weekend. If you are interested in volunteering with Camp Bridges 2024 please contact Carla Mitchell at 204-578-2310 or [email protected]
Camp Bridges is thankful to all of the special people who make this camp possible! Due to the generous donations received, we are able to offer Camp Bridges free of charge for 40 campers each year. In 2023, the amount of applications received well exceeded the available spots; highlighting the continued need for children’s bereavement support services. We are grateful to the individuals, organizations, community service groups and palliative care volunteer committees who contributed financially. We would also like to thank Kuiper’s Family Bakery and Co-op for donations of food and snacks. If you would like to donate to Camp Bridges, please contact Melissa Peters at 204-578-2340 or [email protected] . Income tax receipts are issued for donations.
To learn more about Camp Bridges, or find additional resources to support grieving children, visit our website. Please note: Camp Bridges 2024 applications will be available in January 2024.