Camp BraveHeart helps children, teens deal with loss

Every year, Camp BraveHeart has made a big difference for young people who’ve lost a loved one. (WJAR)

Every year, Camp BraveHeart has made a big difference for young people who’ve lost a loved one.

It’s a two-day summer camp that takes place on the grounds of Camp Aldersgate in North Scituate.

"In the next two days, somebody here in this circle is going to be a person who makes a difference in your grief journey," Deanna Upchurch of Hope Hospice and Palliative Care Rhode Island said to more than 100 campers on day one of camp.

"At the age of 6, my dad passed away,” said 16-year-old Mackenzie Gilmore of Burrillville. He has attended Camp BraveHeart since then, along with his sister, Kaitlyn. They are now both camp counselors-in-training.

“This camp really shows you that you’re not alone. That’s, like, a constant,” said Kaitlyn. “We’re kind of like family.”

Then there’s 17-year-old Forrest Ficke of Newport who lost his dad at the age of 7.

"It’s helped me by understanding I’m not necessarily the only one out there,” said Ficke.

Sarah Cordeiro, a grief counselor with Hope Hospice and Palliative Care Rhode Island, lost her sister, Meghan, to cancer.

"My sister was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia when she was 10 and she battled for 18 months and she lost her battle on June 5, 2008," said Cordeiro, who turned her grief in to a career of helping others. "I feel like I can really be on their level and connect with them because of my experience. It makes me more credible."

"This camp really shows you that you're not alone,” added Kaitlyn. “We're kind of like a family.”

They spend time on the water in canoes, kayaks and paddle boats.

"We have art therapy,” said Upchurch. “This year, they're actually doing some mindfulness jars -- things to help them self-soothe when they need to.”

They also take part in sports and are entertained by various performer. Greg Cooney is visiting this summer, performing whimsical songs for campers.

He also shared the story of his personal loss.

“I’m going to tell you who I lost,” he said. “I lost Patrick, my son.”

And while the camp is considered a safe place to talk about their losses, it’s more than that.

"They also need to be able to be given the permission to experience joy," said Upchurch. "It's also important to know when you smile for the first time after a loss, that that's OK."

The camp is free for children between the ages of 4 and 17. It’s a program of Hope Hospice and Palliative Care Rhode Island, which relies on generous donations to keep the annual tradition going.

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