Everyone deals with grief differently, but families mourning the loss of a loved one found comfort, support and friendship together this month at the first-ever Jessica’s House Summer Family Day Camp which came to an end on Tuesday night.
One hundred children, their families and 50 volunteers gathered at the Turlock Covenant Church once a week during the month of July for fun-filled activities thanks to the organization, which provides a safe place for children, teens, young adults and their families grieving the death of someone close to them. While group therapy is offered at Jessica’s House throughout the school year, the nonprofit wanted to give families the chance to heal and grow during the summer as well, Executive Director Erin Nelson said.
“We’ve had a lot of growth and have seen new families come into the program at the end of the year in April and May,” Nelson said. “We’re always thinking about how we can support them in the summer because with grieving children, it’s important for them to have routine and we wanted to be able to extend that support during these months.”
The Summer Family Camp encouraged both children and their families to partake in therapeutic activities meant to help them express grief and find new coping skills, such as martial arts, poetry, yoga, painting and more. Local businesses came together to make the camp a reality, including Warrior Yoga, Rembrandt and Rose, Merafuentes Tae Kwon Do, Brenda Athletic Club, Alegria Ballroom Dance Academy, La Mo Café, Main Street Footers and more, and Stanislaus State athletes were on hand at the camp to help kids express themselves through sports. The camp ended with a “bang!” on the last night when the group gathered for a drum circle.
“We’ve done a lot of different activities that maybe the kids have never tried before. It’s important for kids to find identity and it really helps if a child has trauma to find something they really enjoy doing that feels empowering,” Nelson said. “It can really help them express what’s going on by taking what’s inside of them and putting it outside.”
The magic of the Summer Family Camp, Nelson added, is that it introduces families who may have never met otherwise.
“At Jessica’s House we may have a sibling loss group, or a group that is just families who have been affected by suicide or parent loss, but this is really all of those mixed together,” Nelson said. “Everyone is getting to make new friends and has an opportunity to connect and know they’re not alone.”
While many of the activities at the camp are aimed at children who attend Jessica’s House, the event was also an opportunity for parents to get to know each other and share their experiences.
“The adults are really connecting and meeting new people that maybe aren’t in their regular groups, and that lets them maybe find out what is going on with each other and see how they might be able to help each other out,” Nelson said. “When you’re going through something, you don’t have an opportunity really in work or a school environment to talk to other people who really understand what you’re going through, so this is a time to really just come together.”