Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Helping Kids Cope with Loss

Because of the generous support of our community, Hospice of Santa Cruz County hosted our first weekend camp for grieving children, Camp Erin© Santa Cruz, last fall. Nestled in the redwood forest at Mount Hermon Redwood Camp, the weekend was filled with both healing and fun activities for the 40 campers in attendance. Campers brought photos of their special person to include on the memory board. They gathered in small groups and, with the support of trained volunteers and staff, discussed their feelings of grief and loss. Interspersed with these healing activities was a lot of fun – ziplining, swimming, art projects and an adventurous ride on the Geronimo Swing.

Bernice’s Story
As we gear up for our 2015 camp, we continue to check in and connect with our camper alumni. Eleven-year-old Bernice attended Camp Erin Santa Cruz County on the recommendation of her school counselor. After her father’s sudden death in an auto accident in 2010, Bernice had suffered from nightmares. Her mother had worried that Bernice had become withdrawn.

Hospice of Santa Cruz County Camp Erin“When something happens, you don’t want to just tell everything to people,” explained young Bernice. Sometimes you keep it in and it can be difficult to open up again.” At Camp Erin, Bernice was in the company of 14 other children who had lost their fathers. For many of the children, this was the first time they had met other people their own age who had experienced a similar loss.

Camp Erin has proved to be an important part of Bernice’s healing journey. “It’s amazing because you have all these people there that are in similar situations, and they understand what’s happened,” explained Bernice. “All of the kids supporting each other and getting to know each other and learning how to interact. It’s a really great environment because people respect what you do and don’t want to do,” she added.

Fourteen Big Buddies attended HSCC grief support training and considered their own losses so that they could best support the campers. “It means so much that the volunteers and staff want to help,” shared Bernice’s mother, Yadira. “They are so well prepared and really care … they have such big hearts.”

Today, Bernice still feels the sadness of losing her father, but she doesn’t feel as alone. “I would have never met all these wonderful people, and I would still feel heavy if I didn’t go to camp,” she told us.
“I would have everything jumbled up inside me and I would feel like I should be closed up and not have people see that side of me,” she added. Yadira agrees that HSCC and Camp Erin has made a difference in Bernice’s healing. “It’s a wonderful experience and very helpful for the children and for the parents,” she said.

HSCC’s Camp Erin is free of charge to all children and teenagers ages 6-17, who have experienced the death of someone close to them.  Our next camp is October 9-11 at Mount Hermon Redwood Camp. Applications are now available on our website www.hospicesantacruz.org/camp-erin. Please help spread the word about Camp Erin.

Camp is available to children and teens in Santa Cruz County, the greater Monterey Bay, Silicon Valley and other areas.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Recipes of Life - A Volunteer's Journey

Hospice of Santa Cruz County Volunteer Visitor
Volunteer Visitor Denine Jones
Sometimes an experience in life inspires us to change directions.  Denine Jones had one of those experiences toward the end of her father-in-law’s life. While spending time with him in the hospital, she realized her calling – to become a nurse. As she was helping to honor her father-in-law’s end-of-life wishes, it became clearer that her interest was in hospice care. “I just want to support and empower people who are dying and do what I can to improve their quality of life,” explains Denine.

And that’s exactly what Denine is doing. She has been a Volunteer Visitor for three years, in addition to being a nursing student at San Jose State. “It feels good. It feels like I’m doing exactly what I want to do - empowering people to be autonomous and do the things that are important to them.”

Every Saturday Denine spends four hours visiting with Rita. Their time together is well planned – they bake. Before her illness, Rita was a caterer and her favorite thing to do was bake. As her brain cancer has progressed, Rita has lost the use of her left side and can’t see out of her left eye, making it dangerous for her to do her most cherished activity. “Imagine having all that taken away from you,” says Denine. With this volunteer’s support, Rita is back in charge of her kitchen. “Rita supervises me and tells me what to do. And, she loves serving people – it gives her so much satisfaction to give the gift of food,” she adds. Their delicious creations are offered to visitors and friends who stop by to help with odd jobs and chores.

Rita was reluctant to accept a volunteer visitor at first. “I told them I don’t want a Volunteer Visitor who wants to sit all day. I want someone who wants to bake!” She quickly came to cherish her time with Denine and has shared some of her prized recipes with her volunteer. “She is so willing to learn and do. I sit in my wheelchair in my kitchen and I hover over her,” explains Rita. “We usually make two pies so Denine can be part of it. I like to send one home with her.”

Denine has been inspired by her baking afternoons. Back at home, she is now sharing Rita’s recipes with her 15-year-old daughter. “I’m going to get an old fashioned box to put her recipes in.” Denine’s eyes well up as she speaks about her time with Rita. “It’s wonderful to bake with her and bring home these treats to my family – I feel as if I’m sharing Rita’s legacy.” Their time together is also precious to Rita. “I can’t cook and I can’t bake anymore,” she says tearfully. “It makes me feel good that I can get back into it a little bit and at least I can see my baking get done. It makes me feel like a part of things again,” adds Rita.

And so their Saturday baking days continue. “It’s extremely important for me to bake with Rita. She’s still giving and useful. I feel like it’s a gift for both of us,” shares Denine.

What a beautiful gift the recipes of life are.


Hospice of Santa Cruz County is currently looking for friendly, compassionate men and women to volunteer to give support directly to patients and their families in their homes and in Skilled Nursing Facilities and/or Residential Care Facilities throughout Santa Cruz County.

Hospice volunteers are a remarkable and dedicated group of individuals and an essential part of our team. Volunteers are drawn to hospice for different reasons, yet they share a common desire – to be of service and help others at this precious time of life. Hospice of Santa Cruz County volunteers visit patients, support loved ones during their grief, and assist in our office. They also speak about hospice services in the community, and join together to present exciting fundraising events. Volunteers who do massage therapy are especially needed.

Click to visit Hospice of Santa Cruz County Volunteer page for more details.