'Open Hearts and Open Zoom Meeting’ for Darcy’s Hope Camp 2020

Light, hope, and love via Zoom set the tone for Darcy’s Hope 2020.

Amid lengthening nights, the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty, grief, and schoolwork, would-be campers, camp volunteers, and camp leaders met online for a 90-minute program to foster connection despite being unable to meet in person.

During the video conference call, participants spoke of their lost loved ones, lit battery-operated candles, and continued several camp traditions despite the separation.

Darcy’s Hope began in 2008 to offer help and healing for grieving teenagers, part of the Benefis Peace Hospice Children’s Bereavement Program. The annual camp is named for Darcy Lynn Dengel, a Mercy Flight nurse who died in a crash in 2007.

As Matthew Marsolek of the musical group Drum Brothers led a group song and rhythm session, goosebumps erupted on his arms.

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“Sing where you are,” Matthew said. “We can make it through this. … Keep the rhythm, keep the fire, keep connections. …”

Rhythm helps with connection and weaving everyone together, Camp Director Kathy Van Tighem said.

“Imagine the warmth of a Darcy’s Hope volunteer sitting next to you, their arm around your shoulders,” she said. “Sad hearts and heavy hearts, we’re in this together.”

Shellie Hayes, a 15-year Hospice volunteer, told the teenagers she missed them. This would have been her fourth year as camp cook. She’s known for her pumpkin cookies and other comfort food.

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A week ahead of virtual camp, Shellie was among the volunteers assembling 44 packets for teens in the program.

“It’s all about the kids,” she said. “They’re getting a better understanding of what they’re feeling and expressing emotions they don’t know how to deal with. It’s a safe space – and I love to cook for them.”

Benefis Children’s Bereavement plans a Christmas mailing for the families in the program, too, because while it’s unlikely everyone will be able to gather for the usual holiday party and memorial service, those involved in the program remain committed to supporting the grieving through what can be a tough time of year.

Camp Francis, which serves grieving children ages 7 to 12, also went virtual this year with camp in an envelope and a metal butterfly group art project that campers began at home and will finish when they are reunited at last, said Kevin Sukut, children’s bereavement coordinator for Benefis Peace Hospice.

“We keep our fingers crossed and hope we can get going with camps in person again,” Kevin said.

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Can you help? Your support for the Children’s Bereavement Program at Benefis Peace Hospice helps the magic happen all year long. Contributions to Benefis Foundation allow grieving children and their families to take part in the program for free.

If you know a family with a teenager or child who could benefit from Benefis bereavement services after the loss of a loved one, please contact Kevin Sukut at kevinsukut@benefis.org or (406) 455-3065

Read more: 'A Packet of Love': COVID-19 Leads to Camp Francis in an Envelope