Dear aunt’s loving glow shines on for family, community and campers

Sonna Cain with great nieces Jordan and KaylaAunt Sonna Cain was there for Kelli, Kayla and Jordan Daugherty whenever they needed her. And then, sadly and suddenly, she wasn’t.

The Tolono after-school daycare provider, generous community member and self-appointed family photographer got pneumonia, developed complications and passed away January 21, 2016.

Although Kelli’s daughters—Kayla, 12, and Jordan, 10—lost their great aunt, both continue to benefit from the coping tools they gained last fall at Camp Healing Heart. Through the many who loved Sonna and through Camp Healing Heart, Sonna’s impact lives on.

“Sonna started a non-profit agency for low-income children 30 years ago in the Unity school district that supplied Christmas gifts, school supplies, clothes and food,” said Brynn Howard, MSW, LCSW, a social worker with Carle Home Services. “Her family requested that memorial donations go to Camp Healing Heart because of her love for children.”

Camp Healing Heart happens each fall 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.

Sonna Cain and day care kids celebrate a special birthdayToday, just like soon after Sonna passed away, Kayla and Jordan grieve in different ways.

“Jordan misses Sonna, but she doesn’t get emotional,” Kelli said. “For Kayla, the grief just comes in waves. I’ll hear her crying and find her in her room with a picture of Sonna.”

At Camp Healing Heart, campers talk about their loved ones and their feelings. They create memory boxes to keep special items nearby.

“Both girls loved Camp. The activities were great, especially because it all came back around to really honoring their aunt,” Kelli said.

Camp Healing Heart organizers say year after year that the volunteers and staff get as much out of the day-long event as the campers.

“We help prepare volunteers the night before so they know what to expect and how to support children during the moments of grief and the moments of celebration,” said Elizabeth Rieke, MSW, LSW, also a social worker with Carle Home Services.

“We now have sessions for parents, and we always end the day with the whole family invited so everyone can take the next steps in the process together.”

Kelli misses her aunt terribly but says Camp Healing Heart helped her help her daughters when the pain was much fresher.

“We all had been incredibly close. We all were grieving, and I had no idea how to help them get through their grief,” Kelli said. “It’s helpful to know Camp helped them and that they’re doing all right.”

Camp Healing Heart is funded through Carle Center for Philanthropy