A Thought Leader Conversation on Children’s Grief

  • November 16, 2016
  • Source Eluna
  • Author Eluna
  • Type Blog

In recognition of Children's Grief Awareness Day, we sat down with Eluna CEO Mary FitzGerald (Camp Erin t-shirt on the right) and VP of the New York Life Foundation Maria Collins (Camp Erin t-shirt on the left) to discuss the importance of children's grief support nationwide.

Q1) MARIA, with Children’s Grief Awareness Day upon us, please tell us more about the mission of CGAD and what this day represents for the bereavement field?

Children’s Grief Awareness Day (CGAD), started in 2008, is a day to raise awareness and build a conversation around the needs of grieving children to help ensure that no child grieves alone.

CGAD is observed on the third Thursday in November every year (the Thursday before Thanksgiving). The holiday season can be a challenging time for many, especially grieving children and families, yet this day underscores how we all can support and understand the needs of grieving children. This day focuses on several goals:

  • Encourage greater support of grieving children
  • Raise awareness of how grief impacts children and the benefits of grief support
  • Disseminate resources and information to increase knowledge about the topic
  • Raise the level of conversation to cultivate a more grief–sensitive culture

MARY, how is Eluna helping to raise awareness of childhood bereavement on this day and throughout the year?

Each year, in partnership with the New York Life Foundation, we collaborate with hundreds of children’s grief organizations and professionals and launch a targeted campaign to raise awareness and support for childhood bereavement. This effort includes the launching of the National Memory Board Project, a powerful initiative that harnesses the reach of social media to help grieving children understand they are not alone in their grief; something we hear often from the children we serve. Modeled after a remembrance activity that happens at every Camp Erin, the National Memory Board Project invites individuals to share a photo and/or message of someone who has died to social media using #TMFMemoryBoard. The posts are then collected onto one inspirational board of messages that provides individuals with a platform to honor and remember those that have died while further providing comfort to grieving children and teens. Click HERE to visit the National Memory Board Project.

Throughout the year, Eluna is dedicated to increasing education and affecting policy change through advocacy in our nation’s capital. This includes efforts like Capitol Hill Day when representatives from Eluna, New York Life and Camp Erin partners descended on Washington, D.C. to meet with government officials to share about the current needs of grieving children and families. Our National Bereavement Camp Conference is held every other year to bring together children’s grief professionals for the sharing of best practices and industry standards in the field of childhood bereavement. Awareness is a vital first step to creating change and we are inspired by the great strides that are made each year through these important efforts.

Q2) MARY, Eluna created the Camp Erin bereavement program in 2002. Please tell us a little bit about the program and what makes it so unique.

Camp Erin is named after a very special young woman named Erin Metcalf who died from liver cancer at 17.  The camp network is the focal point of Eluna’s childhood bereavement program and has grown into the largest international network of camps for children and teens grieving the death of a loved one or other significant person in their lives. Children and teens ages 6-17 attend a transformational weekend camp that combines traditional, fun camp activities with grief education and emotional support, free of charge for all families. Led by grief professionals and trained volunteers, Camp Erin offers an environment that fosters the breakdown of feelings of loneliness and isolation, the enhancement of self-esteem, and the opportunity for children to bond and heal alongside their peers. Camp Erin is currently offered in 45 locations across the U.S. and Canada, including every Major League Baseball city. Eluna partners with hospices and other bereavement organizations to bring comfort, hope and healing to thousands of grieving children and teens each year.

Q3) MARY, Camp Erin has grown from 8 camps in 2008 to 45 camps and counting this year. As your network continues to expand, what have you learned about the state of bereavement support in the U.S. and the work that remains to be done?

Unfortunately, we have seen a rise in traumatic death from suicides to homicides to overdoses. Today, families are in dire need of personalized grief resources, and alongside our community partners, we are supporting needs that are much more complex and diverse. As a result, the field of childhood bereavement has evolved into a more sophisticated, research-based field that includes therapeutic modalities such as mindfulness and art therapy.  The camp setting provides youth with both an independent as well as peer-supported environment outside of the context of their family system that is uniquely transformational.

Q4) MARIA, since your initial involvement with this cause dating back to 2008, the bereavement field has grown and evolved considerably, yet there is still more work to do to ensure that grieving children and their families have access to much needed support and resources. How would you like to see the bereavement field expand moving forward?

This is a very difficult question, because childhood bereavement is still a young field. Our goal is to continue to elevate the conversation and build awareness around this issue – underscoring that grief is an everyday issue, not a topic to only be addressed when there is a national tragedy. Childhood bereavement is often overlooked because it is a difficult topic for people to embrace. We will continue to collaborate with our partners like Eluna to raise awareness and develop and promote resources that can positively support grieving children and their families – working toward the goal of letting no child grieve alone.

Q5) MARY, New York Life recently announced a new multi-year grant to support Eluna’s work, which will include further expansion of Camp Erin's programs. Where will the new camps be located and why were these sites chosen?  Read the full press release HERE.

We are now in year eight of our partnership with the New York Life Foundation and could not be more appreciative of the support we receive for our childhood bereavement programs. This new, multi-year grant will enable Eluna to strengthen our camp infrastructure and expand our programming to more children and teens that are in need. When looking to expand and strengthen our services, we focus on partnering with organizations that strategically align with our mission and possess the ability to offer the highest quality services. Ensuring that our partners can provide for increasing access to support for grieving youth is essential. Other important organization attributes include a demonstration of strategic marketing, outreach and fundraising plans.

We are excited about one of our newest Camp Erin locations established just outside of Washington, DC in Montgomery County, Maryland which held its first camp in October of 2016. This site was chosen for a few critical reasons. Tragically, suicide and murder deaths in that area are trending upwards, as are substance abuse related deaths. In addition, the surrounding community is transient, with many immigrant families experiencing loss far from their home support systems. Our community partner, Hospice Caring, Inc., has a long history of providing excellent care to Montgomery County, MD with all of their services provided free of charge.  

Additionally, we are thrilled to provide funding to expand 11 of our existing Camp Erin locations to serve over 200 additional campers in 2017. These locations range from Connecticut to northern California and will enable us to increase the number of children served annually to 3,400 by the end of 2017 and an estimated 24,400 served since inception. Finally, we look forward to opening new Camp Erin locations across the country to strengthen our already robust network of camp partners.

Q6) MARIA, the New York Life Foundation has supported childhood bereavement since 2008 and this year marks a significant milestone as you will pass $30M in bereavement funding. As the largest corporate funder of this cause, please tell us about your giving strategy and the types of bereavement work you support.

In 2008, the Foundation made its first investment in a free bereavement camp for kids who have experienced the death of a loved one. It’s not only a good fit as a philanthropic strategy; it also aligns with our core business of life insurance. We’re proud that bereavement support has become a part of New York Life’s culture and an issue that our employees and agents embrace as their own. We have and will continue to make long–term investments to demonstrate our dedication and leadership with respect to this issue.

We developed a multi–faceted approach to deepen our investment in the field, allowing us to adapt and evolve as new needs and opportunities become evident. Currently, our strategy seeks to elevate the bereavement field by focusing on three main funding priorities: 1) Capacity building to raise nationwide awareness of – and concern for – the problem of childhood grief; 2) Direct service to provide support for direct programs and resources for grieving children and their families; 3) Research/evaluation measures to add value to the larger field by filling gaps and adding standard models of practice, protocols, metrics and assessments.

Q7) MARY, as we look toward the future of Eluna, how would you like to see the organization grow over the next few years?

Through the vision of our founders, the persistence and hard work of our staff and board, and the amazing dedication of our camp partners, Eluna has served over 24,000 children and families over the last 16 years. Our goal is to serve 50,000 children and families by 2020. This outreach is possible because of our extensive Camp Erin network of community partners throughout the U.S. and Canada; the launch of Eluna Resource Center, a carefully curated set of online resources for grief and other related areas accompanied by personalized support; our vast public advocacy efforts such as Capitol Hill Days where we are working hard to reach out to more military families in need; and through the exploration and building of collaborative partnerships that can help compliment and strengthen our offerings. These strategies will not only springboard our efforts to help more youth and families experiencing grief, but also ensure we are serving them in a more holistic and restorative manner. The need is great and successful growth means improved service through true partnerships.

Thank you, Mary and Maria!


For additional children's grief resources, visit Eluna Resource Center.

To learn more about Children's Grief Awareness Day, CLICK HERE.

To learn more about the New York Life Foundation's commitment to childhood bereavement, visit www.achildingrief.com.