While their care of terminally ill patients and their families spans 17 counties in North Carolina and Southern Virginia, Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care also passionately focuses on children and teens, via the services of Kids Path® and Kids Path Children’s Camp.
Originally founded by Hospice & Palliative Care of Greensboro, Kids Path has been in place in the Mountain Valley region since 2014, and supports active programs in the North Carolina counties of Forsyth, Surry, Stokes, Yadkin, Davie, Wilkes, Iredell, and Alleghany, and Carroll, Grayson, Wythe, Pulaski, Patrick, Floyd, Henry, Franklin, and Pittsylvania counties in Virginia.
Besides their much-loved camps – a no-cost, often life-changing experience for children and teens ages six to 18 who have suffered a loss or are expecting a family loss – Kids Path also offers individual bereavement counseling by a licensed professional counselor. Take a closer look at the camps, and it is clear these are times of personal growth and grief processing, accomplished through fun activities and sharing time with children experiencing the very same emotions. Most importantly, young campers learn to appropriately express emotions and cope with negative feelings in a healthy way.
“While being an outlet for creativity, it’s also a time for children to be with other children who have suffered a loss,” says Kristie Byrd, Director of Family Services for Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care. “Camp helps them know they are not alone.”
From age-based group sessions in a therapeutic environment, to the creative (and fun!) use of art, music, and sports recreation, children are taught that mourning a loved one is not a process of forgetting, but a way of remembering – but with a little less pain, thanks to the support of friends.
“Camp is planned with the developmental needs of children in mind,” explains Kristie. “Activities are led by the professional bereavement staff of Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care and specially trained volunteers.”
Thirteen-year-old Mary attended Kids Path Camp last July after losing her mother to cancer, and describes the camp as a “place to help get stress out.” Because she and her mom had been fond of creating craft projects together, making crafts in memory of her mom was a positive activity that evoked loving memories of their happy times together. She also learned the healthy strategy of taking a few minutes to “collect her thoughts” when she felt overwhelmed, a skill she will nurture for a lifetime.
“It’s good to note that camp is not a sad experience,” says Kristie. “Even though children are talking about their losses, they are also having fun, making new friends, and learning to move forward. We at Kids Path are here to help them on their journey of healing, where there will be tears, but also laughter.”
The Mountain Valley bereavement staff also recognizes the importance of parents, guardians, and extended family members being aware of what the campers learned and experienced during their camp time. A memorial service is held at the end of each camp, where children have opportunities to share their arts and crafts projects, poems, songs, and any new skills they learned along the way. A butterfly or balloon release is typically the finale of the memorial service.
This year’s camp theme is “To everything there is a season … a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Summer camps will be held in three areas served by Mountain Valley: June 26-28 from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Wellspring Mountain in Mount Airy, June 21 from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Wilkes YMCA in Wilkes County, and June 10 from 8 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. at Dehart Park in Stuart, Virginia.
To learn more about the Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care’s Kids Path Children’s Camp or other services they provide for terminally ill patients and their families, call 1-888-789-2922 or visit the group online at mtnvalleyhospice.org.