SPRINGFIELD – Coping with the loss of a loved one can be challenging for anyone, especially school-aged children. Community Mercy Hospice’s Camp Phoenix, a one-day support camp founded 11 years ago by a group of five area individuals, aims to help youths in Champaign and Clark counties deal with the grieving process.
Open to children between the ages of 5 and 16 who have experienced loss, the 11th annual Camp Phoenix will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 3 at Grace Lutheran Church, 1801 Saint Paris Pike, Springfield.
“We want to reach out to the kids who sometimes get lost in their feelings of grief, as children grieve differently than adults and need and deserve special attention,” said Camp Coordinator Diana Zerkle, a licensed social worker at Community Mercy Hospice. “We want to bring them together for peer support, validation, and to let them know they are not alone.”
Zerkle added the camp uses the talents of roughly a dozen artists who present different mediums to the children throughout the day in hopes of inspiring them to find “a positive and creative way to demonstrate their feelings.”
Children are exposed to music, dance, outside exercise activities, and private peer groups in which each child is invited to share his or her story of loss.
“The goal is to offer children a safe place to be open, understood and supported with new hope for the future,” Zerkle said. “We want to give them tools to take home and apply to their own special changing needs. “
Several visitors are scheduled to make an appearance at this year’s camp. They include pet therapy dogs, Ronald McDonald and Cincinnati Reds mascots.
“We take a camp picture, which the campers receive after camp day to remind them they have new friends bonded in common feelings,” said Zerkle, adding along with being provided snacks and a lunch, each camper will leave with a T-shirt, backpack, book and any artwork they create.
Volunteers, registration information
Camp Phoenix, Zerkle said, wouldn’t be what it is without the countless volunteers who have given time to the cause over the past decade. This year, she expects to have at her disposal on June 3 approximately 40 volunteers and 15 teen assistants.
“I have such a loyal group that has stood with me for the past 10 years in our goal to provide Camp Phoenix for all kids in Clark and Champaign counties,” she said. “I have had the same core group who are so organized and bring such energy and devotion.”
As one of the founders of the camp, things came full circle for Zerkle in 2015 following a loss of her own.
“Last year I had lost my mother four days before the camp, and the support I received from our volunteers and the children that attended saw me through,” she said. “There is no camp without our volunteers.”
While there is no cost to attend, a registration form must be filled out by a parent or guardian by May 27 for a child to participate in Camp Phoenix.
Registration forms can be found online at www.community-mercy.org. Individuals without Internet access can request forms be mailed to them by calling 937-390-9665.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.