Camp Healing Heart needs caring volunteers to help children cope with grief

This year’s camp will be Saturday, October 3 at the University of Illinois 4-H Memorial Camp near Monticello. Registration is open for children ages 5-17 who are dealing with grief because they’ve lost a loved one. Each camper pairs up with a volunteer buddy to play, learn and remember.

While campers need to apply for the free camp by September 25, Carle Hospice, which organizes Camp Healing Heart, needs volunteers to apply by September 18. About 100 volunteers make the camp successful, and less than half that have signed up so far.

“Volunteers tell us Camp Healing Heart is an amazing experience,” said Letisha Owens, Carle Hospice volunteer and marketing coordinator. “They laugh. They cry. They learn a lot.”

Volunteers receive training the Friday evening before the event. Owens knows every child is different, so the team receives lots of support, as well.

“We tell the volunteers they don’t always have to say something. They can just hold a child’s hand, just listen. And they can get someone to help out if it’s overwhelming,” Owens said.

Free to campers, Camp Healing Heart is funded through Carle Center for Philanthropy. Since the camp’s launch in 2005, about 400 children have attended after the loss of a parent, grandparent or other loved one.

“Camp Healing Heart helps so they can live and just be kids while they deal with their feelings,” Owens said.

Rantoul’s Mallory Wagner attended Camp Healing Heart after losing her brother, Cory, to cancer just more than three years ago. Mallory and her parents want other families to know how much the camp does to help grieving kids keep memories alive and cope with their situation.

“It was great to have a buddy there,” said 10-year-old Mallory. “I still look at the memory boxes I made at camp, and they always make me smile and think of Cory.”

Visit Carle.org/hospice or call 217-383-3151 to sign up as a volunteer or camper and for more information.