Angela Reece, high school senior, was seventeen when her mother passed away. She and her younger siblings went to camp the following summer.
Camp HeartSong is a faith-based organization dedicated to help children and teens cope with the loss of a loved one.
The bereavement camp is held every summer in July at John Knox Ranch located in Fisher, Texas. The organization is sponsored by Central Texas Medical Center Hospice Care and is divided into two sections based on the camper’s age.
Camp HeartSong is hosted for children ages 7 to 12 while Camp HeartSong Too, sponsored by, is for adolescents in need of the grieving process.
Reece, who attends Crockett High School, said she and a friend were able to share their stories and help the younger children cope with their loss.
“We were like the leaders,” she said.
Children and teens participate in one hour of therapy each day of the camp for a total of three days at no cost. The campers learn to trust one another in order to gain a successful support group.
Reece said the first day of camp consisted of introductions and group bonding games. The campers participated in a tightrope course on the second day helping them to develop team-building skills.
Other activities at Camp HeartSong include canoeing, fishing and hiking. Camp director Lisa Adams said John Knox Ranch is the perfect place to play outdoors.
Campers create arts and crafts every summer to help express their feelings over the loss of their loved ones. The most memorable project involves the participants decorating their own masks.
“When you grieve, you put on a mask,” Adams said. “We want the mask to express how the children are really feeling.”
Adams said at the end of the camp, the children and teens write letters to the deceased.
Children fold their letters into boats and push them into the river. The teenagers attach their letters to a balloon and release them into the sky. The event is called “Letting Go.”
Reece said the last day of camp was a heartwarming experience. She said everyone released their balloons at different times and reflected on the past.
“When I let go of my balloon, it kind of felt like my mom was there,” she said.
Reece and her siblings reenacted the “Letting Go” experience from the summer for their mother’s birthday. They have decided to make it a new tradition in their family.
Reece said she encouraged many of her friends who have endured a similar experience to attend Camp HeartSong.
The children and teens have access to counselors and a support group provided by CTMC Hospice Care throughout the school year after the camp session is over.
Ron Scott started the camp in 2004 and functioned as camp director until his retirement two years later. Lisa Adams has been involved with the organization for several years and encourages Texas State students to volunteer in their free time.
Gabriela Alonzo, former social work graduate student, learned about Camp HeartSong through her internship at CTMC Hospice Care.
“I really enjoyed working with the kids. It was interesting watching them open up. They all grieved differently,” she said.
Alonzo encourages students studying social work or child development to volunteer at the camp. She said volunteering will give students an opportunity to work with bereavement and learn about the process.
Child Protective Services recently hired Alonzo in San Antonio.
CTMC is currently accepting applications for Camp HeartSong and Camp HeartSong Too. Adams said the campers will develop close friendships, a support group and most importantly a new way to live their lives.