Taking steps toward healing
Children who lost a loved one enjoyed a weekend grief camp
Swimming, dancing and honoring their loved ones were some of the activities campers participated in at the 23rd annual Stepping Stones camp, offered free by BJC Hospice. The three-day-long bereavement camp is for children ages 6-15 who have experienced the death of a loved one. Professional staff and volunteers lead the camp, which offers a safe place to explore grief, anger and fear — balanced by plenty of fun.
This year, 50 children, from across St. Louis and surrounding Illinois communities as well as Springfield and Kansas City, Missouri, came together in August at Camp Wyman in Eureka, Missouri, for team building, face painting, outdoor games and of course s’mores. There were also therapeutic activities, such as making memory flags and stepping stones, tie dyeing camp shirts, music therapy, and a nighttime boat ceremony with candles.
“It is always such a gift to see the campers connect with one another, laugh and cry together, share stories about the people in their lives who have died, and participate in the wide variety of activities we have planned for them,” says Andrea Tritinger, BJC Hospice manager.
Campers participated in a new activity this year that involved each cabin of campers choosing a superhero to represent their cabin. The campers connected their superhero with a coping tool they can use during hard times and worked with the BJC Hospice music therapy team to create a chant about their superhero. An organization called Kids’ Capes for Courage made a superhero cape for each camper to wear throughout the weekend.
The music therapy team then helped all eight cabins put their chants together for a group performance of the song on Saturday night and again on Sunday as part of the closing ceremony.
The older campers also participated in a climbing tower team-building activity to work on communication, trust and asking for help when needed, which are all important skills during difficult or challenging times.
Stepping Stones camp could not have happened without the 55 volunteers who stayed the whole weekend at camp and 20 other volunteers who came to help with activities. Many of this year's volunteers were members of BJC Connections groups.
“The majority of our volunteers were new this year and they were all so amazing,” Tritinger says. “We are so grateful for their help. They were flexible, patient, caring, compassionate and brought lots of energy. All those pieces really ensured that our campers were able to have lots of fun and helped to create safe spaces for the campers to share their feelings with each other."
Tritinger says it was wonderful to have an overnight camp for the first time since 2019. “I think we were all a little nervous about how it would feel to be back this year in person and stay overnight, but it wound up being an incredibly powerful weekend for the campers, as well as the staff and volunteers — and it was a huge success," she says.
“It surprises me each time we do camp how quickly connections are made and the campers ease into the routine of camp, and how willing they are to be vulnerable with each other, despite not knowing anyone when they first arrive on Friday. There was plenty of fun, laughter, tears and hugs. Memories were shared, new coping skills were learned, campers got to try new things, and new friendships were formed in just about 48 hours of time. Stepping Stones Camp is a really special experience in so many ways.”