Photo: Arts and crafts time at Camp New Dawn.
On August 17, Compass Regional Hospice kicked off its 25th year of Camp New Dawn (Centreville, Maryland). This annual bereavement camp gives local children, teens, and families the opportunity to express and understand their grief, and meet other kids who have been impacted by the loss of a loved one. During its inaugural year in 1994, Susan Brandon established “Camp Rainbow”, as it was originally called, which hosted 18 children from Queen Anne’s County. That first year, one camper who attended after losing his mother and grandfather told a reporter that he liked camp because it gave him an opportunity to talk to people about the loved ones he had lost, “when you are with your family, you don’t really want to say too much about it. But at camp, you can talk easier about your feelings.
This year during the closing ceremony, campers and volunteers had the opportunity to reflect on the past years and recognize how much camp has evolved since 1994. Camp Director, Rhonda Knotts, has been involved with Camp New Dawn for nearly 20 years. Knotts said of founder Susan Brandon, “This program would not be where it is today, if it weren’t for the vision, passion, and commitment of Susan.” Now held at Camp Pecometh, the 4-day, 3-night event offers a kids’ program for children ages 6-13, a teen group, a mini camp for children ages 3-6, a 24-hour adult retreat, and a 24-hour family retreat.
Paige Barton attended that first camp 25 years ago, after suddenly losing her grandfather to a heart attack. She said of her experience, “Camp new dawn helped me realize it was okay to reminisce and reflect on the wonderful memories we shared together, it was okay to cry, it was okay to communicate to others my sad feelings. I can only imagine the lives that this camp has touched. It’s not only a reflection of our loved ones but also a reflection of what Compass Regional Hospice has done in our community.”
Another camp alumni, Kristin Whitesell, remembers receiving her mom’s incurable cancer diagnosis when Whitesell was only 10 years old. When hospice got involved in her mom’s care, she was introduced to Susan Brandon, someone whose impact she will never forget. Three years later “Camp Rainbow” came to fruition, and Susan reached out to invite Whitesell. “I think back on that weekend often. I think about all the special people I met, and the tools that I learned to help me deal with my feelings and grief. I even, after all these years, saved an autograph book that I made during that weekend at camp.”
Over the last 25 years, Camp New Dawn has grown and provided a safe place for over 800 children to learn about and process their grief. Each child is paired with a “Buddy”, a volunteer who stays with their camper for the duration of the weekend, building a trusting relationship and helping the child move forward in their healing process. Buddies find the camp a rewarding and fulfilling experience that they ultimately carry with them for the rest of their lives. Long-time volunteer Mark Wade said, “One of the things that we are most proud of here at Camp New Dawn, is the fact that so many of our past campers believe so strongly in the power of healing that takes place during our retreat, that they are now volunteers—truly some of our best volunteers.”
In addition to structured grief-related activities, discussions, and remembrance activities, attendees enjoy lots of typical camp fun. From swimming and fishing, to dancing and yoga, Camp New Dawn makes sure that campers come away from the experience wanting to come back. “Our program provides a unique opportunity for children and teens to increase levels of hope, enhance self-esteem, and most importantly to learn that they are not alone. We provide a structure that enables healing and fun filled moments with people who understand what it feels like to lose someone close”, Knotts said
The cost of Camp New Dawn is $30 per camper or $75 per family. No one is turned away based on inability to pay and these fees cover just a fraction of the actual operating costs, so Compass Regional Hospice relies on donations, grants and fundraising events to cover expenses. Knotts says they have been extremely fortunate regarding the amount of people who donate their materials, talents, time, and energy to the children and families who participate in their camp. Those who find themselves intimidated by becoming a “Buddy”, offer support through in-kind gifts and expertise that keep camp running smoothly. This year over 100 volunteers spent the long weekend ensuring all needs were met for all 65 campers. This annual retreat would not be possible without the generosity and support of the community members who passionately stand behind the mission.
Compass Regional Hospice
Camp New Dawn is a bereavement camp hosted by Compass Regional Hospice, designed to promote understanding and healing for children, who have lost a loved one. Since 1985, Compass Regional Hospice has been dedicated to supporting people of all ages living with a serious illness, and those learning to cope following the death of a loved one. Today, the organization is a regional provider of palliative care, hospice care, and grief support in Queen Anne’s, Kent, and Caroline counties (Maryland). Grief support services are offered to families of all patients, as well as to children and adults in the community who are grieving the loss of a loved one.