A community activist’s dream of establishing Bermuda’s first grief camp to help children deal with loss has moved a step closer.
Gina Spence hopes to launch a bereavement camp to support the scores of grieving youngsters who have lost family to gun crime based on the American Comfort Zone Camp model.
Last week, two representatives from Comfort Zone were on island and met with more than 200 local professionals, many of whom are on the front line of the battle against gangs and violent crime.
CEO Alesia Alexander and the group’s director of strategic partnerships, Abby Moncrief ,were invited to Bermuda by Ms Spence to explore how a bereavement camp could work in Bermuda.
“As there is currently no intensive or specialised free bereavement and grief support for children impacted by homicide in Bermuda, most of these children will grow up to be adults suffering from the effects of unaddressed childhood trauma,” said Ms Spence.
“We have recognised that something needs to be done to help these children heal and move forward positively.
“The team from Comfort Zone were in Bermuda between December 5 and December 8 to conduct a full needs assessment to determine the type of programme, the number of families in need of services and resources the community needs.
“It is our goal to launch a Comfort Zone camp here in Bermuda, the first of its kind.”
Comfort Zone is a non-profit bereavement camp based in Virginia, which was designed to transform the lives of children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or caregiver. The free camps include confidence-building programmes and age-based support groups aimed at breaking the emotional isolation grief can bring.
The first Comfort Zone Camp was held near Richmond, Virginia in 1999 and since then the organisation has expanded its services to three additional locations — California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. It is now the largest bereavement camp in the US and provides programmes to children of all ages.
Ms Moncrief said: “The partnership that has developed between Comfort Zone Camp and Gina Spence Productions is one that is going to change the way the Bermuda community talks about grief and loss for years to come. The conversations that have started are ones with passionate people behind them who love their country and want what is best for it and the people who live there.
“We are honoured to take part in these discussions and will continue to support, empower and educate Gina Spence Productions and the people of Bermuda so that they can ultimately support each other.”
Last week Ms Alexander and Ms Moncrief met with a wide range of local experts to talk about the island’s gang problem as well as how children are affected by grief.
Family liaison workers, police officers, social workers and other professionals shared their experiences in the community and discussed possible resolutions to tackle the gang culture.
The community workshop on Thursday was also attended by Leroy Bean, the Government’s gang violence reduction co-ordinator, Progressive Labour Party MP Tinee Furbert and Deputy Governor Ginny Ferson.
Ms Alexander told The Royal Gazette: “I am more than inspired and moved by the passion and commitment that this community has communicated during our listening and sharing sessions.
“The discussions and dialogue that has started here will go a long way in continuing to move towards an actionable plan for the support of Bermuda’s young people living with loss, and set a template for how community collaboration can be done intentionally and sustainably.
“Gina Spence Productions gave us an invitation to engage in real and frank conversations about multiple aspects of the issues facing this nation in the hopes of informing our own approach to support, and in support of keeping a plan for a grief support response focused on inclusion, best practices, and the realities facing young people and families in Bermuda.
“The team and I asked Bermudians to ask a different question, and to arrive at answers to the issues presented on the impact of violence on the community. This simple act changes the path to how we move together towards solutions and strategies that can happen immediately and in the long term.
Ms Spence added: “Over the last few years, we have extended our own programme to include children who have lost loved ones through road fatalities and terminal illnesses.
“Thus, the Comfort Zone programme, which accommodates all forms of grief and loss, will be instrumental in assisting us to prepare Bermuda’s children with a voice, a place and community in which to heal, grow and lead more fulfilling lives.”