Camp Phoenix helps kids cope with loss


SPRINGFIELD – Youths in need of support following a loss, divorce or separation can attend a daylong camp to express their feelings.

Camp Phoenix, now in its 10th year, will be from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, June 19, at Grace Lutheran Church in Springfield. The free one-day camp was created by Community Mercy Hospice staff. Registration is required by June 15. The camp is for children ages 5 to 16. Participants receive snacks, lunch and a camp T-shirt.

The camp grew out of a monthly grief support group for children, said Phil Barber, one of the camp’s founders.

“After a few years of that, we decided it would be nice to get a lot of (the kids) together and have a fun camp day. That’s how it got its start.”

Barber said he saw a need for the camp and the bereavement group.

“In the schools, kids can’t really talk to a lot of people, because sometimes other kids make fun of them,” he said. “It’s really important for them to be in a group of peers where they have all lost someone. It makes them able to open up more. It’s a grief process, and we just like to help them work through that.”

Community Mercy Hospice social worker Diana Zerkle, one of the camp’s founders, said the monthly support group takes a break during the summer. The group founders felt that would be a good time to have the day camp.

“Any child can experience any kind of loss in their lives,” she said. “It can come in a lot of different ways – divorce, a lost pet. We are not necessarily focused on the loss or how it occurred, just the feeling and coping with the feeling.”

Zerkle said she estimates the camp has served approximately 700 youths over the years. Some are repeat customers as grief resurfaces.

“They grieve in spurts,” she said. “Kids go in and out of grief because of their maturity, or from changes in family dynamics. They revisit it as they get older and realize all the things other kids have that they don’t … And, sometimes, they have more losses as time goes on.

“We teach them the tools so they can go home and continue to use them as time goes on,” she said. Part of that includes literature on therapy options if the family feels it necessary.

Zerkle said sometimes children do not show outward emotion, but show it through their behavior.

The benefit of the day camp is mixing in fun activities with time for the kids to express themselves in a variety of ways, Zerkle said. Kids tend to feel more comfortable at the end of the day when group conversations are held, since they have had a chance to get to know other kids throughout the day and are more willing to express themselves.

Registration forms are available online at community-mercy.org/hospice (click on the Camp Phoenix tab), by visiting Community Mercy Hospice at 444 W. Harding Road, and by calling 937-390-9665.