Different format, same goals.
While events continue to be canceled or postponed due to COVID-19 concerns, Jennifer Seechock knew Hospice of the Sacred Heart’s Camp Healing Hearts had to be held in some way.
Instead of face-to-face engagement, the programs were conducted through Zoom video conferences. That change hasn’t stopped bereavement counselors and members of the local arts community from helping kids deal with the loss of a loved one.
Seechock, director of counseling services for the nonprofit, recognizes the impact the annual event has on grieving children.
“It’s designed to expose kids to the different arts,” she said.
She feels children are more likely to open up about their feelings at camp than in a school setting.
“It creates an open, supportive environment and levels the playing field because everyone had a similar loss,” Seechock said. “They have an immediate connection.”
The online stream also didn’t prevent kids from having productive interactions.
“They are sharing feelings with each other even though they haven’t met in person,” Seechock said.
Lisa Bath, a secondary education teacher in the Abington Heights School District, leads writing sessions at camp and has been impressed by the commitment of the counselors and courage of the kids.
“The hospice workers and support staff believe in each camper,” she said. “If they’re not fully engaged, they continue to be encouraged and given the same opportunities.”
Bath thinks that persistence leads to big breakthroughs by the end of the week.
“They are all able to present their finished products with excitement and pride,” she said. “The projects are so meaningful and connect the campers to their lost loved ones.”
This year, Bath hosted a session where campers used candy wrappers in the place of some words to express their feelings.
“It’s a way to express personal, heartfelt messages to lost loved ones and have a little bit of fun with it,” she said.
Seechock described the camp as a bright spot during troubling times.
“In general, we all look at everything we lost due to the virus and all the restrictions on life,” she said. “The campers have gained so much by moving to a virtual format. It has totally exceeded our expectations.”
One benefit of the virtual programs, Seechock said, was that it allowed children from across the nine counties the hospice serves to participate. She said the organization will likely consider maintaining some type of virtual format even if the kids are cleared to meet in person next year.
Bath thinks children can carry skills they learn during camp throughout their lives.
“Writing can be a therapeutic activity,” she said. “Kids can use it to deal with their grief and any future stresses.”