Camp New Dawn helps you to take a step forward; just by showing up, honoring, remembering and crying for your loved ones … you move forward, just a little bit. Somehow, you walk through a doorway.” — Rhonda Knotts

CENTREVILLE — Compass Regional Hospice recently completed its 24th Camp New Dawn, a grief retreat summer camp for children, teens and families, held annually at Camp Pecometh on the Chester River near Centreville.

“Remembrance is necessary in healing. You may not realize it at first, but Camp New Dawn helps you to take a step forward; just by showing up, honoring, remembering and crying for your loved ones … you move forward, just a little bit. Somehow, you walk through a doorway,” Camp New Dawn Director Rhonda Knotts said.

The retreat, which took place from Aug. 18 to 21, is designed to meet the needs of all ages and stages of grief, serving children and teens between the ages of 4 and 17, as well as their families. This year, 92 children and eight families were served by Camp New Dawn.

Of those numbers, 35 participants were from Queen Anne’s County, 25 were from Caroline County and 12 were from Kent County. Other camp participants were from other Mid-Shore and Maryland counties, and some came from Delaware to take part in camp.

“It’s just a reflection of our community, the losses they have suffered and the pain that is still out there,” said Knotts, who has been involved with the camp for nearly 20 years.

Nearly 120 volunteers were on hand during the camp to make sure it ran smoothly. About two dozen more assisted with preparations prior to camp beginning.

The most visible volunteers are “Buddies” — caring and compassionate adults who were paired up with campers to provide support. There also were support staff volunteers who tended to every detail of camp by helping plan, set up and facilitate activities.

Former campers, “PALS” and “Campatiers,” were found helping in a variety of ways around camp, as well as sharing their own personal camp experiences with new campers.

Knotts said every year the camp is notably full of amazing volunteers and memorable support groups, but this year, she also noted the impact of the younger volunteers — how many campers eventually become volunteers, helping other children and families through difficult periods of grief.

“I get so emotional about our volunteers, because they just keep showing up, every year,” Knotts said. “It’s these kids, too, these young adults, who, if we can give them pieces of this, they really can — through ideas of their own — make Camp New Dawn grow into the future.

Knotts said it is not just the visible volunteers that make Camp New Dawn so special, but the ones behind the scenes, as well. Several of those behind-the-scenes volunteers include the Anthony family and several friends who make the opening night cookout possible; Carolyn Moorsehead, who purchased all the food for the opening night cookout; Karla Horton of Dragonfly Paddle and Fitness, who offered to teach yoga to children during opening night therapeutic activities, and Jessica Palmen, who offered to teach yoga to children during opening night therapeutic activities; Dave Briguglio of Ridgely and owner of Greener Systems LLC, and several of his friends, who cook and provide boardwalk fries to the campers during the opening night cookout; JC Warner, who bought all the supplies for one of the therapeutic activities; and countless others who volunteer their time, talents and money to make sure the campers have a unique and memorable experience — before, during and after camp.

One such volunteer is Nathan Powell, who spent two weeks prior to the start of Camp New Dawn making gallons of homemade vanilla ice cream for the campers to enjoy during the opening night cookout.

“You know, it’s not the idea of him making the ice cream, really, it’s the idea of the devotion,” Knotts said. “What people are willing to do to somehow make Camp New Dawn even more special. Dr. (Thomas) Walsh (Compass Regional Hospice’s chief medical director) had a snow cone mobile show up on Monday during camp; Georgia and Jim Wilkison arranged for a snow cone mobile to show up on Sunday, in the heat of the afternoon … snow cones for every volunteer and every kid.”

“It’s not the gift, it’s the idea that they want to make it more memorable for these kids,” Knotts said.

Knotts said the August retreat helps participants learn healthy ways to express their grief.

“Under the guidance of professional grief support staff and specially trained volunteers, participants are taught healthy ways to express their grief in a safe, supportive and fun environment, while also getting to know others who are on a similar journey,” Knotts said.

Campers ages 7 to 17 attended therapeutic workshops, age-specific grief support groups and supervised camp activities, such as swimming, fishing, drumming, yoga and arts and crafts.

Knotts said Compass Regional Hospice is “deeply grateful and appreciative for all the support from Camp Pecometh’s staff.”

Camp New Dawn also included an overnight adult and family retreat that began Sunday, Aug. 19. While their campers were busy learning how to cope with their grief, parents and guardians were invited to attend the adult retreat designed to help restore participants to a place of wholeness as they learn to navigate their own grief journey.

Activities included grief support groups, therapeutic workshops and restorative activities, such as sunrise yoga and nature walks. The adults then were then joined by their children for overnight family camp, where they came together to learn skills they could take home with them. A mini retreat for children ages 4 to 6 was held Monday, Aug. 20.

The cost of Camp New Dawn was $30 per camper and $75 per family. These fees represent a small fraction of the actual cost of operating Camp New Dawn and no one is ever turned away because of an inability to pay. Compass Regional Hospice relies on community donations, grants and fundraising events to cover expenses, so that anyone who needs to attend may participate in Camp New Dawn.

Knotts said she is grateful for a community who cares and who devoted time, resources and funding to make sure camp is available to those who need it.

“Camp New Dawn is a year-round priority for us at Compass Regional Hospice,” Knotts said. “We work really hard all year to make sure we have what we need for these children and families.”

For more information about Camp New Dawn, contact Knotts at 443-262-4109 or rknotts@compassregionalhospice.org. For more information about volunteering for Camp New Dawn, contact Courtney Williams, assistant Camp New Dawn director, at 443-262-4112 or cwilliams@compassregionalhospice.org. For more information about donating to Camp New Dawn, contact Kenda Leager, development officer, at 443-262-4106 or kleager@compassregional hospice.org.

Follow me on Twitter @connie_stardem.

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