Eleven years ago, the Hospice of Moorestown Visiting Nurse Association was notified that a free grief camp for children in the area would be shutting down.
The group recognized the significant need for grief support for local children, so it did everything it could to put together a camp of its own.
Camp Firefly is now held every summer at Camp Matollionequay in Medford courtesy of the Moorestown VNA.
“There is a true and ongoing need for grief support for children,” Moorestown VNA Director of Public Communications Kim Plasket said. “We have been fortunate to find many generous donors and sponsors, both local and national, who recognize the benefits of this service and who come back to support Camp Firefly each year.”
The campsite is accessible for all campers throughout Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties.
“The facilities are just right for an overnight camp, and the staff has been very supportive of our grief support activities,” Plasket said.
Team members go out of their way to supplement the experience with true camp events such as swimming and cookouts the children enjoy.
All children who have lost a parent, sibling or any special person through death and are seeking support to help cope with grief are invited to join for no fee.
These campers spend the weekend in a caring, nurturing environment with the Hospice of Moorestown VNA’s team of grief professionals and volunteer counselors, as well as peers who have experienced a similar loss.
To date, nearly 500 local children have benefited from attending the camp.
The children come from a variety of backgrounds and interests, and they range in age from 7 to 14.
“We think we’ve done a pretty good job of finding something fun for everyone,” Moorestown VNA Bereavement Coordinator Andra Vasko said.
All kids will be given the opportunity to swim, canoe, take part in a giant scavenger hunt, Zumba dancing, basketball, t-shirt decorating, s’mores around the campfire and a puppet show.
“These activities are interspersed with grief support sessions, a memorial boat launch and arts-and-crafts projects that help the children to visually express their feelings of loss,” Vasko said. “They are always busy and engaged while at camp.”
The camp staff includes grief support counselors, a spiritual counselor and various professionals who plan and manage the camp each year.
The Moorestown VNA recruits and trains these volunteer counselors who meet the campers and their families during the summer, and then spend the entire weekend with the children over the course of the camp weekend on Aug. 27–28.
These volunteer counselors range in age from 16 and up. The younger counselors spend the day at camp but go home at night, while the counselors age 21 and up spend the night in the cabin with their assigned group of children. There are usually one to two counselors for every two children at camp.
“Part of our mission is to teach people to care for themselves, and to care for others,” Plasket said.
The Hospice of Moorestown VNA cares for terminally-ill patients, as well as provides support for their families.
“Children are especially vulnerable at times of loss, and are often overlooked because they hide their feelings or are unable to express their feelings appropriately,” Plasket said.
Camp Firefly provides a unique opportunity for the children to open up to peers who have experienced a similar loss, to bond with counselors who understand what they are going through and to learn positive strategies for coping with their loss in their lives.
Vasko said some of these children arrive the first day expressing ambivalence and worry about what the weekend will comprise.
Firefly gives them the opportunity to honor and remember their loved ones in a meaningful way while also having some fun.
“It’s knowing we’ve had a real and positive impact on our campers,” Vasko said. “At the conclusion of Camp Firefly, the campers express satisfaction with having met other children with similar losses. The common ground of loss is significant to the children. Before camp, they may not have known of another child at their school or in their community who suffered the loss of someone close to them who died.”
The group alternates traditional camp activities with loss-related activities that help the children cope with the nature of early grief, an emotion that has a tendency to hit at inopportune and unexpected times.
The volunteers and counselors pay close attention to the children and are supportive of their grief process throughout the weekend and in all of the activities.
“We learn to navigate grief by allowing the tears, anger, happy memories and the whole range of emotions to come, but to let them go as well, and focus to the best of our ability on the task or activity at hand,” Vasko said.
If you are interested in Camp Firefly, call (856) 552–1300, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit the organization’s new website www.moorestownvna.org or visit the Moorestown Visiting Nurses & Hospice Facebook page.
Those interested in volunteering with the Moorestown VNA should call the volunteer department at (856) 552–1300, ext. 2165. Appropriate training will be provided.