The camp at St. John Fisher College will open for a fourth year this summer.
PITTSFORD — Adam Burlinson was only 7 when his father died from colon cancer in March 2014.
At such a young age, it can be difficult to understand why everything around you is changing, why someone isn’t going to come home ever again. The concept of death isn’t something that’s easy to grasp for anyone, especially a child who hasn’t developed the kind of coping skills adults have.
That is why his mother, Lisa Burlinson, of Albion, sent him to Camp Heartstrings/Camp Dreams.
Rochester’s Dreams for Drake teamed up with Visiting Nurse Service and Pittsford Youth Service to create Camp Heartstrings/Camp Dreams in 2014, helping kids like Adam, and so many others, develop coping skills, express grief and learn how to continue enjoying life after the death of a family member.
The free camp is open to children grades 2-11 and will be held for its fourth year, Wednesday, July 12, through Friday, July 14, at St. John Fisher College. Registration is limited to 40 campers and closes June 1.
During the three-day camp, children have the opportunity to engage in activities that encourage them to meet other children who have experienced a death in their family and learn to talk openly about their feelings. Activities include pet, music and art therapies and a variety of camp games. Michele Allman, bereavement coordinator for Visiting Nurse Service, said it can be difficult for children to enjoy life after they lose someone.
“As children are learning how to deal with grief, at one time or another they’re wondering if it’s OK to have fun,” Allman said. “Guilt and regret are a part of grief. We mix fun camp games in with therapeutic and social activities so they have a little bit of both and know it’s OK to have fun."
At the time Adam was dealing with the death of his father, his mother was dealing with the death of her husband. As a parent, she didn’t know how to help him, because her pain was based on a different kind of love and relationship than Adam’s. The camp helped him in ways that she couldn’t.
“I wanted more support for him than I was able to give," Lisa Burlinson said. "I want him to have a space that he can be with other kids too. I just wanted him to have peers to connect to.”
The camp is broken into five or six groups, with three adults working with six to eight children. It’s run by professional social workers, with help from trained volunteers, who work hard to ensure that games and activities are age-appropriate for each group. Two licensed marriage and family therapists and a child life specialist are on site to help counsel.
Now 10, Adam is hoping to attend again this year. He’s been to the camp every year it’s been open.
In his everyday life, Adam often feels misunderstood, but at a camp, he’s in a safe space with other kids who understand what he’s feeling and going through. The camp accepts repeat campers like him because grief doesn’t cease after a year. As children age and develop mentally, they might need or find new ways to cope. In the past three years, Lisa Burlinson has seen Adam progress and grow. He expresses and talks about his feelings, he has more self-confidence and understands himself better.
For more information about the camp, how to volunteer or how to register, go to the Visiting Nurse Service website at vnsnet.com or contact Michele Allman, bereavement coordinator for Visiting Nurse Service, at 585-274-4069.