Chicago

Free bereavement camp offers children experiencing loss a way to bond and cope

The camp is free for kids ages 5-17, according to organizers

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A unique suburban summer camp is offering children who've experienced the loss of a loved one an opportunity to cope and bond through music and play, and it's all free of charge.

Camp Kangaroo is a therapeutic arts camp, founded in Chicago in 2012, through the nonprofit Seasons Hospice Foundation, part of Accent Care Hospice.

"It takes this special group of kids who would normally not meet, and they come together and we spend the weekend healing and helping them, and teaching them coping skills," said Maureen Zito, the director of patient experience, at Accent Care Hospice. "The vast majority have lost somebody to an unexpected sudden or traumatic death. We find that the children who need us the most are the children who didn’t have that opportunity to say goodbye. Or children who are strained to find a resource to provide the support that we can."

Board-certified music therapists, clinical social workers and hospice chaplains from Accent Hospice Care guide children through their grief in a safe space, with creative arts therapy. Participants also receive grief education and emotional support.

The camp provided comfort for the Bianco family after the loss of their son in May of 2023.

"This will be our second year, but it was really important for our family to be able to be there last year, so recently after his passing," said David Bianco.

A.J. Bianco was born with a congenital heart defect and Achondroplasia. He lived for 44 days.

"The hardest part was the boys not ever being able to ever hold their brother," said Bianco. "They moved from a place of shock and not really knowing how to wrestle with their feelings into actually being able to voice their emotions aloud in a constructive way that felt good."

Camp Kangaroo will be held July 12-14 at Concordia University in River Forest.

It's free to attend for children ages 5-to-17. Registration is open now.

"The common thread is really the loss, and a lot of times the children are the only one in their class who’ve lost someone significant in their life. It feels very lonely to them. In order to come to camp, now you’ve experienced that there are all these other children. It's such a unique, common thread for them," said Zito.

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