Video

Camp Erin blends play, help for grieving kids

Camp Erin Toronto brings children and teens who've recently lost a loved one together for three days to swim, do arts and grieve together. Organizers say sharing personal, painful experiences helps with the healing process.

Counsellors lead mix of games and bereavement workshops

Camp Erin Toronto offers swimming, arts and grief counseling to kids who have recently lost a loved one. 7:59

Summer camp usually kicks off with a sea of eager, smiling faces, but at Camp Erin Toronto the young faces are largely sombre. And the opening introductions? Painfully serious.

"My name is Peter and I lost my mom from cancer."

He's joined by Janhoi, whose father was shot. And Gavin, whose brother choked to death. They're among the 103 kids and teens who recently attended the bereavement camp in Muskoka, Ont.

The camp finds grieving children through various community agencies, most notably the Dr. Jay Children's Grief Program, and offers them three days of swimming, canoeing, arts and grief workshops.

Camille Humphrey, who has been grieving the death of her father, said the bereavement focus at Camp Erin had benefits, because campers understand what all the others around them are going through. "Everyone has had someone close to them die recently," she said. "And I like that." (CBC News)

The first Camp Erin was established in 2002 in Everett, Washington, by retired professional baseball player Jamie Moyer and his wife Karen. They named the camp after a girl they met through the Make-A-Wish Foundation who worried how her sisters would cope after she died of cancer. 

There are now 46 locations in the U.S. and two in Canada. Camp Erin Toronto in Muskoka is supported by The Blue Jays Care Foundation.

- Heather O'Brien, camp grief counsellor

For some kids, the place is appealing. For others, talking about death with strangers can be a hard sell. 

"I like that I'm not the only one," said Camille Humphrey, whose father Dan died last year of metastatic melanoma. "Everyone has had someone close to them die recently. And I like that, but I'm just not sure how I feel about the camp." 

It's exactly that common experience that ultimately wins over Humphrey, as well as other campers.

"They're in a beautiful setting, surrounded by forest and lake and birds — and a group of kids who get it," said Heather O'Brien, a children's grief counsellor and the camp's director. "They all get it."

CBC's The National visited Camp Erin Toronto and spoke with campers and parents about their personal experiences dealing with the loss of loved ones — watch the story.

With files from Perlita Stroh

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.