With campfires, nature walks and arts-and-crafts projects, Camp Erin in Carnation is not unlike any other overnight camp for children and teens. But Camp Erin serves a special population — kids who are struggling with the loss of a loved one.
In addition to traditional camp events, Camp Erin incorporates activities to help kids with their grief. It’s led by Providence Hospice staff and held at Camp Korey. Kids ages 6 to 18 are invited to attend the popular camp for free, where they can spend a weekend with kids like themselves.
“Children go through a similar grieving process as adults,” says Safe Crossings executive director Bill Borden. They experience the same emotions during this process that adults do, he says, “but can oftentimes lack the words to express these emotions and instead will lash out or shut down.”
Photo courtesy of Safe Crossings Foundation
The camp is funded by Seattle’s Safe Crossings Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to help children cope with loss. The nonprofit was started by two widowed mothers whose husbands were attorneys at Williams Kastner, which provided some of the initial funding.
Safe Crossings offers a range of programs and services beyond Camp Erin in order to help children grieve in ways that meet their developmental and emotional needs. The organization supports children facing the process of grieving, or who are already grieving a loved one. It provides funding for services including group and individual counseling, weekend and day camps, year-round picnics and bonfires.
Art therapy is an important tool used in Safe Crossings’ programs. In one exercise, the children trace an outline of themselves on a big sheet of paper, and then draw their feelings on their silhouette. “Kids will draw tears in their eyes, black around their heart or heads, or anything that expresses their feelings; they can get very creative,” Borden says. “Then we have a visual representation of their emotions and are better able to connect with them.”
Safe Crossings also partners with other local grief organizations, including The Healing Center, a grief-support community that offers informal events for families, and Art with Heart, a children’s mental-health nonprofit organization creating therapeutic books to help children.
Safe Crossings, which provides resources and education for mental health and medical professionals, recently hosting its first conference focused on best practices in treating childhood grief, and offers continuing education and networking opportunities.
The organization hopes to shift the conversation around grief by normalizing it, says Borden. Safe Crossings does this by “supporting group sessions, day camps and [Camp Erin], where children get to meet and interact with others who have suffered a loss. Helping the children feel less isolated and alone can transform their relationships with others. The bonds forged at these sessions can last a lifetime.”
Safe Crossings Foundation offers support for children and teens through 14 regional programs available in Seattle, Snohomish, Edmonds, Kirkland, Tacoma and Olympia.