wonderful thing happens every October in the Carolinas. There is an incredibly special and unique camp that takes place at Lake Wylie. The camp, affectionately and appropriately named Chameleon’s Journey™, is a camp for children ages 7-17 who have experienced the death of a loved one. The camp is run by Hospice and Palliative Care Charlotte Region.
Why the name? Well, a chameleon is a wonderful real world example of a little creature that learns to adapt to its surroundings. Likewise, in the real world of grief, after the death of a loved one, children have to learn to adapt to their “new surroundings” their “new normal”. In this process they are often confused with the ever changing emotions they experience. At times they are sad, yet at other times they experience such feelings as anger, fear, guilt and jealously to name a few of the mixed emotions on their journey through grief.
A chameleon is a wonderful real world example of a little creature that learns to adapt to its surroundings
Sadly the needs of children, after the death of a loved one, are often overlooked or underestimated. Adults often have support groups and friends that can help them through the process. While, for children, they don’t really have much support from friends who “get it” and the adults in their lives can often be struggling with their own grief and, in doing so, fail to meet the unique needs of the children impacted.
Chameleon’s Journey™ is there for the children. It focuses on the needs of children and teens by pulling together dedicated and loving staff, counselors and nurses that are there each year for the some 100, or so, campers that attend. The camp, this month, is celebrating its 19th annual overnight camp. It has served over 1500 campers to date.
The children and teens are placed in small groups, based on their ages. By grouping by age, each child is surrounded by others, their age that “get it” at their age appropriate level. Those groups are supported by camp counselors who work with their campers through a variety of ways. Some of the activities include art, drama, writing and recreational activities.
Children arrive on a Saturday morning, are warmly greeted by an incredibly organized and dedicated staff, who begin their journey with them. Meanwhile, the adults are offered a group caregiver session so they too, can be helped in their own grief journey.
On Sunday the families reconvene in the large lodge and get to see the looks on the transformed faces of the children. Faces that are smiling and laughing with their newly found friends that “get” their journey. The campers and their families get to watch skits by the children about what they learned on their journey over the weekend, and how they, like our little chameleon friend, must learn to adapt to their new surroundings and understand that their changing emotions are a normal part of the journey through grief.
Their changing emotions are a normal part of the journey through grief
The group session ends with a wonderful video compilation of the camper’s weekend and a balloon release on the shores of Lake Wylie.
I have seen, first hand, the power of this camp to bring perspective and hope to children. My own daughter started to attend at the age of 9 after the death of both her Daddy and her only sibling. She continued to go there for the next 8 years. Over the years we were blessed to get to know Larry Dawalt the Director of Hospice and Palliative Care Charlotte Region (HPCCR). A man who has an absolute heart for children.
A few years back he allowed my daughter to write and publish a book, “Chameleon’s Journey: The Tale of One Little Chameleon’s Journey through Grief” detailing the journey of the camp’s little chameleon friend, adapted from the Chameleon’s Journey™ play that the camper’s watch each year. The book is provided to the camper’s each year, to take home, read and share with others.
Should you wish more information on this annual camp contact either Hospice and Palliative Care Charlotte Region at HPCCR.org or myself at firstname.lastname@example.org.