Camp Forget-Me-Not gives voice to children, families in grieving process

Published 10:52 am Monday, May 20, 2024

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Since 1979, Tillery Compassionate Care, formerly Hospice of Stanly, has been helping patients with terminal illnesses who need end-of-life care and their families through those tough times.

Among the outreach programs TCC has is a free camp for youth ages 5 to 18 who have suffered the loss of a loved one.

This year’s camp took place Saturday at Joshua Youth Camp off Pennington Road in Albemarle, where kids and their parents or guardians had the chance to have a fun day while also learning to deal with grief.

Campers rode horseback, fished in a stocked pond, played basketball, slid down a slip-and-slide and did arts and crafts. Some campers made memory boards and kids took home specially made teddy bears, constructed out of a shirt from their loved one who passed.

Jennifer Whitley, who lost her mother in August, said it was she and her family’s first time at the camp, but credited TCC for helping them through tough times.

“It’s been good to grow as a family, being able to stay together today and enjoy the memories of my mom,” Whitley said.

Whitley said TCC has helped her family, saying her daughters, Jaden and Gracie, “loved their granny and were really close. They helped me take care of her. This has just helped the grieving process.”

She said TCC has helped the family get through holidays, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Mother’s Day.

Jennifer’s husband, Bradley, said he also has received advice on helping his family deal with the loss.

“Probably one of the biggest things was when someone loses a loved one, as a husband, I don’t want to inflict any kind of pain or hurt. Therefore, I would think the best way is to not say anything, because you don’t want to cause anything that causes hurt,” Bradley said. “They encouraged me to not do that, to bring it up and talk about it.”

Janna Spurr, a bereavement coordinator with TCC, said the camp was “a powerful day for (children) to see that they are not so alone in their loss. … To go through this together as a family really does help.”

Spurr said parents get their own education on grief separate from the children.

It is “a very powerful time for them to be able to express themselves,” Spurr said.

Michaele Conners, TCC’s bereavement coordinator supervisor, said the camp gives kids a voice to their feelings. She said many children who attend the camp later come to TCC for counseling.

The annual camp is for children from Stanly and Montgomery counties, and information on the camp goes out to Stanly County Schools, charter and private schools, offices of pediatricians, Monarch Behavioral and Daymark Recovery, and social media.

TCC’s children’s camp is funded by a grant through United Way and has many volunteers who give their time to assist at the camp.

Pat Mills, whose husband volunteered making hamburgers and hot dogs for campers for many years, continues to volunteer at the camp despite her husband passing three years ago.

“It meant a lot to me before his death,” Mills said. “It’s my happy place now. I can give back.”

“You’re supposed to give back. Obviously, I see the joy on these kids’ faces after they have had a tragedy in their lives, and that puts joy in my heart,” volunteer Bill Randle added. “Kids need the care just as much as the elderly or grownups.”

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio has served as the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press for more than 16 years and has written numerous news and feature storeis as well. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also won an award from Boone Newspapers, and has won four North Carolina Press Association awards.

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