Camp Healing Heart again welcomes caring volunteers



Something clicked for Carle social work intern Beth Weston when she first heard about Camp Healing Heart three years ago.

At the time, she was an undergraduate student at Eastern Illinois University and was interning with Sunset Funeral Home as part of the bereavement coordinator team. Weston felt good about the path she was on, but when she found out about Camp Healing Heart, a flood of feelings came with it.

She immediately remembered her grandfather’s passing when she was in high school. Weston remembered how hard it was to lose someone she loved. She felt confused and uncertain how to explain the emotions to others. 

Then she considered what it must be like for children much younger than her, the children who attend Camp Healing Heart.

Camp Healing Heart camper and her buddy“I was able to move past my own challenge after losing a loved one, and I wanted to help other kids who were going through the same troubling time,” Weston said.

Camp is Saturday, October 21 at the University of Illinois 4-H Memorial Camp near Monticello for children ages 5-17 who have lost a loved one. Each camper pairs up with a volunteer buddy to play, learn and remember. Campers need to apply for the free camp by October 13.

You can help, too. Simply fill out the volunteer application form and return it to Carle Hospice by October 9 (deadline extended) either via fax at (217) 355-8133 or mail to Carle Home Services, 206A West Anthony Drive, Champaign IL 61822.

“Research shows the importance for children to talk about these topics, even if they don’t truly grasp it yet. In so many ways, though, kids are much smarter than we may think," Weston said.

“So when they do comprehend their emotions and this challenge, they have experience and resources to fall back on for the rest of their lives.”

For the past two years, Weston gave her time to the camp as a facilitator.

Volunteers fill three different roles.

The facilitator is the most involved, leading group activities and discussions. The buddies are volunteers confident enough to discuss the weighty topic but feel more comfortable doing so one-on-one. And then there are volunteers who lend a helping hand through setup and cleanup.

What amazed Weston every year is the volunteers all seem to understand the opportunity ahead. They are there to impact a child during an important moment.

“When the camp starts, the kids are mostly quiet and reserved,” Weston said. “It’s early in the morning, and they are probably wondering what they’re about to do. But over the course of the day, it’s great to see so many kids realize it’s OK to talk about these topics.

"They realize there are others who get it."

Some laugh over old memories with the loved one they lost.

Others cry in the arms of their buddy.

Regardless of how, the campers all express emotions that would have otherwise been bottled up.

And they do so to people who have all been through it before, people who understand.

“People like Beth are awesome,” said Letisha Owens, Carle Hospice volunteer marketing coordinator. “She has a great personality, compassionate and clearly a good fit as a volunteer at Camp Healing Heart. All our volunteers show amazing capabilities during these moments with the campers.”

soccer ball with questions to help children talk about their lost loved onesWhen Weston explains to others why they should volunteer, she focuses on the approach.

If someone is new to the idea, she said, the potential volunteer might worry about how to approach children in such a fragile state. Carle’s direction conducts the event through exercises proven by evidence-based practice.

“Yes, it’s a full day, an emotionally exhausting day,” Weston said. “But we’ve structured this to also include a lot of fun games – including a climbing wall and horses to ride during breaks.

"You'll be tired, but you will also see first-hand what our campers get out of it."

She believes the entire experience can change something within the volunteers as much as it does the campers.

From this experience and many others, Weston is on track to enter the Social Work field. When she finishes her internship at Carle in December, she will also be on track to receive her Master of Social Work from the University of Illinois.

As she prepares for her own next steps, events like Camp Healing Heart have clearly given her the confidence to do more for others in the future.

And she gives credit to many different influences for that type of progression.

“By meeting people like Elizabeth Rieke, Brynn Howard and Rita Manning, as well as many others at Carle, I have gained so much,” Weston said.

“These experiences will stick with me wherever I go from here.”

Camp Healing Heart is funded by donations to Carle Center for Philanthropy, and you can contribute through this donation form. The generosity of others makes sure the costs are taken care of and our community can continue to benefit from the efforts of these volunteers.