Shannon’s Hope Camp, which helps children grieve the deaths of loved ones, met at St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center on March 7 and 8, continuing a decades-long tradition. Founded in 1989, Shannon’s Hope has held nearly all of its sessions at St. Christopher since then.
“I believe we missed one year because of a storm,” executive director Jonathan Wright said as he greeted arriving campers before the opening ceremony. “Now we always reserve our time a year in advance.”
The camp consists of several sessions in which children are invited to talk, to whatever degree they are comfortable doing so, about their grief. Talk is one of four qualities that leaders have learned are crucial to grieving children’s healing during the camp (the other three are tears, touch, and time).
The opening session for Shannon’s Hope drew about 30 young people and several volunteers to the gymnasium of Susanna’s House, a large multipurpose facility at the heart of the St. Christopher campus.
The walls of the gym were lined with colorful and decorated cloths strung together like prayer flags. They carried simple messages (“Keep Hope, Not War,” “May the Sun Shine Warmly, Lord, on Each Child’s Face,” “Family/friends/softball,” “I Love You, Mom”) and abstract drawings.
Led by volunteers, campers boosted their comfort levels and energy first by standing in a large talking circle. As they received a blue foam ball, they said their first name and one thing they loved (sports, foods, colors, school subjects).
Still standing in the circle, they recreated the sounds of a rain forest by making sounds with their bodies as mostly percussive instruments: rubbing palms together briskly, snapping fingers, making clicking sounds with their tongues, slapping both their thighs with their palms, stamping their feet vigorously. They practiced the sounds, then an orchestrated pattern made its way around the circle. The mini-concert ended in vigorous applause.
They learned how to pass brightly colored sports hoops from one person to another while holding hands, which involved plenty of bending, twisting, and laughter. They broke into teams to compete at doing this the fastest.
Finally they moved to the east end of Susanna’s House, where they listened to two volunteers read aloud from scripts. The brief sketch imagined a boy who has lost his father and feels deep sadness because of it. A friend of the boy talks about how it’s okay to cry, and how Shannon’s Hope Camp helps boys and girls just like him.
The more the script touched on the sadness of loss, the quieter the roomful of rambunctious children grew. Then, using color-coded kites on their nametags, they split into small groups that would spend the rest of the weekend building deeper friendships and facing down the monsters of grief.