Grief Camp Needs Male Counselors to Get Out of Its ‘Worst Spot’ Ever

Camp Courage is for children trying to adjust to life after someone dies — and will have to turn away campers unless someone steps up

Apr 23, 2024 at 6:00 am
Young campers at Annie's Hope - the Center for Grieving Kids learn how to cope with the death of a parent or other loved one.
Young campers at Annie's Hope - the Center for Grieving Kids learn how to cope with the death of a parent or other loved one. COURTESY ANNIE'S HOPE

Annie’s Hope offers a free summer camp for children in the St. Louis area, but it’s probably not what you think. 

While this camp does offer the fun activities associated with the concept — including crafts, canoeing and kickball — its purpose is greater, and every camper has one thing in common: Someone they love is dead.

Camp Courage is an annual getaway for grieving kids and teens ages 6-18. This year, due to a scheduling conflict, the camp will only last one week, from June 3-7, and it’s in desperate need of male counselors. 

Becky Byrne, founder of Annie’s Hope - the Center for Grieving Kids, which operates the camp tells RFT that for every male counselor at the camp, three grieving boys can attend. The organization posted on social media that they are far short of where they need to be to meet demand.

“We’re in the worst spot we’ve ever been in for needing volunteers and, as it stands, we will have to turn away 40+ boys who are looking for grief support this summer,” a Facebook post read.

click to enlarge A camper climbs an Alpine tower. - COURTESY OF ANNIE'S HOPE
A camper climbs an Alpine tower.

Grief impacts children and teens far more than most people would expect, Byrne says. According to statistics shared by Annie’s Hope, 1 in 10 kids in the St. Louis area and its surrounding counties will experience the death of a parent or sibling before they reach adulthood.

“Annie's hope is all about helping kids adjust to life after somebody has died,” Byrne says. “It's all about connecting them with their peers, who can best understand them. It's about helping keep or start communication between family members about each of their grief processes and the collective family grief process, and how they can navigate through that.”

Camp Courage is meant to be that connector that allows children and teens to meet peers who understand exactly what they are going through, and for whom death isn’t such a taboo topic. 

The camp’s struggle to recruit male volunteers is not a new one, but this year is more dire than most. Byrne says she isn’t exactly sure why, but it may have to do with the fact that the pipelines they use to recruit volunteers — like reaching out to social work programs in universities — are typically female dominated career fields. 

But it is crucial that young boys see men they can look up to who can help them find healthy ways to cope with grief and death, Byrne says.

“We've got to have guys, they're just, they're different, they connect to those like them,” Byrne says. “We need to be representative of that. Not only in gender identity, but also in race, and personality. We like a variety so that the kids can find at least one that they really, really trust and can build a relationship with during that week of camp.”

The camp doesn’t offer direct counseling services, instead they are creative about the activities they offer and mostly view the experience as a way to connect campers to mentors and their peers. 

“We’re starting where they are,” Byrne says. 

An example of this is adaptive play. Byrne describes a kickball game the camp might use to reach campers where, when they reach first base, they talk about a healing memory with their dead loved one. Second base might be the child telling teammates a way life has changed since the death. And third base might be something deeper, like a way they would change a memory that troubles them. 

“Every three boys that we have, we need a cabin counselor who puts out energy of care and love and non-judgment,” Byrne says.

At this time, Annie’s Hope is looking for at least 14 more male counselors so that they can host all of the campers who want to attend.

Prospective volunteers do not need to have any prior experience in childcare or grief and can reach out to the organization at [email protected]. The camp will be held at Lake Williamson from June 1-7 and volunteers will get 151 hours of community service. There will be two days of training before the start of camp, Byrne says.

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