Suncoast Hospice Social Worker Dee Brandon

We mourn with heavy hearts for the Parkland community struck by the school shooting. Too many young lives and people who shielded them are gone too soon. Many survivors and loved ones are left behind to deal with this monumental, painful tragedy.

Shootings, suicides, accidental overdoses, car accidents and other unexpected losses shake our worlds. These traumatic events can be devastating for anyone to face. Specialized grief support can help children find healing.

Our Healing Hearts Camps in St. Petersburg help support African-American children ages eight to 13 who have experienced sudden deaths of loved ones. Funding is provided by an Empath Health Women’s Giving Network grant proposed by Empath Health Director of Provider and Community Relations Karen Davis-Pritchett, who saw a need to create a resource for the community and children to start talking about loss and grief.

Our first two camps were held on January 27 and March 10 at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve. Dee Brandon, a longtime Suncoast Hospice licensed social worker who focuses on counseling critically-ill or injured children, assisted with camp activities.

“Being able to work with the kids just warms my heart. Boyd Hill’s right in the neighborhood. It was so beautiful. All of the kids have had very significant losses. The camp really benefited the kids in a lot of ways because it put them in an environment where they could talk about their feelings with other kids. They really bonded. It was like sacred ground,” Brandon reported after the first camp.

Campers experienced a half day of kinship, education and expression around death and the grief process in a peaceful outdoor setting. They were comforted by various fun and therapeutic activities with our staff and uplifted by words of inspiration from community leaders, including Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and Pinellas County School Board Chair Rene Flowers. Activities included an ice breaker, creating masks, music therapy, nature walk, recreation, wooden heart memorial and circle of support.

Camper Janiyah Spratley

The children and their families learned about the stages, signs and healing of grief.

Brandon explained, “Some kids were feeling a lot of sadness, had dreams about their loved ones or were nervous talking about their loved ones because they didn’t want to upset other people in their families. There may be anger or changes in behavior, sleeping patterns and appetites. Parents need to be aware of what to be looking for.”

The kids also learned how to move forward with their emotions in positive ways.

“All of the people there were so supportive of the kids. We helped show them that what they’re going through is normal, validated feelings, provided healthy coping mechanisms and encouraged finding a support system of safe people who they can talk to about their feelings. It was pretty amazing,” she said.

Get Support

If you or your child is struggling coping with the loss of a loved one, call us to schedule a counseling appointment at (727) 523-3451.

You may also register for one of our grief support groups offered at many locations.