Killen's Pond State Park recently hosted 58 children in Delaware Hospice's Camp New Hope. Opened in 1990, Camp New Hope is a nationally recognized day program designed for kids ages 6 to 17 who recently lost a loved one. It operates in all three Delaware counties as well as other states, however this year it was condensed into two separate camps for the children.
This year's theme revolves around the lessons that can be learned from Simba in the classic "The Lion King," such as don't run away from your fears and to talk to others about your grief.
"We want to not only support, but educate them on their grief," said New Hope Director for Kent and Sussex County Robin Murphy. Through different crafts and activities, the groups of children bonded and shared their experiences with one another while keeping their minds off current events. One popular activity is the spin art machine, owned and operated by 92-year-old volunteer Andy Parezo of Hurlock, Md.
For the past 25 years, Parezo has traveled to 14 Camp New Hope sessions with his altered spin art machine. "I have worked with children most of my life in one capacity or another," Parezo said. "I consider myself to be a protector of children. There's a lot we could learn from [them]," he said. Hailey Butler, a 12-year-old first-time camper, enjoys the camp. "I'm having a lot of fun," and she was really excited about the rock wall, Butler said.
After the kids get to know one another and create their team banners, they go through a variety of activities, each with a different theme. Throughout the four days of camp, the children climb a rock wall, make para-cord wristbands with Air Force volunteers and have the chance to ask a chaplain from Parsell Funeral Home in Lewes any questions they might have about their loved one's death.
"Some of the questions are very deep," Murphy said. "[The chaplain] may not be able to answer all of them, but we try to comfort the kids," she said. At the end of the camp, a group funeral service is held for all of the children and their loved ones, along with their family.
"This is a memorial service for the kids because a lot of them feel left out of the memorial service and the planning and all. This is their personal memorial service," said Murphy. Each child places a decorated ornament on a special tree during the service and the tree is then donated to the state park.
To help with the fun, Delaware Hospice has four staff members working the camp as well as 28 volunteers, some of whom are former Camp New Hope attendees.
"There's a lot going on here if you stick around," said regular volunteer Kenny Alphin. "The aim of the hospice and Camp New Hope is to get their minds off their troubles," said Parezo. For volunteer Greg Forney, this is his second Camp New Hope as a counselor. "[The Wilmington camp] was a great experience," Forney said. "I'll probably be doings this again next year if my schedule works out."