A death in a community as close knit and small as the Florida Keys affects everyone, but children often don’t know how to cope with such a tremendous loss.

HospiceCare of Southeast Florida, Inc. has been operating bereavement camps in Broward and Dade counties for years, but last year was the first time such a camp was offered for children in Monroe County.

A child understands death differently than an adult, and this helps them deal with the death of a loved one,” said Monroe County Volunteer Coordinator Rita Charron. “Kids down here don’t have the services available to them as those offered in bigger cities.”

Charron also heads up Camp Coral Keys, after hosting 15 campers last year at Pigeon Key; she’s anticipating an even bigger camp this year.

“We have 24 campers signed up right now,” Charron said proudly. “We only have a few spots left, but we’d never turn away a child if they needed our services. We’d find a way to make it work.”

Camp Coral Keys is a complimentary weekend bereavement camp at Pigeon Key in Marathon for children ages 6-13 running Oct. 9-11. Pigeon Key is not only a good halfway point for children throughout Monroe County; it is the only facility of its kind in the area.

Charron said Executive Director Kelly McKinnon was so accommodating in working with HospiceCare to host these children.

“He bent over backwards to help get everyone out there on the ferry, and there’s enough space for each child to have their own quiet space to grieve,” she continued.

Not only is there enough space on the island, there will also be plenty of support staff – all of them graciously volunteering their time and services throughout the weekend – to offer individual counseling and comfort for each child.

“For those kids, walking along that bridge with their counselors is often one of the best sessions they have,” Charron said.

Social worker Pam Soucy said campers will not only have art, drama and music expression opportunities, there will also be plenty of activities like fishing and swimming to help them blow off steam.

“This is an opportunity for children that may or may not know each other to come together and talked about the loss of their loved ones,” Soucy explained. “Through a play and expressive modalities we do, they come to a different way of talking about their experiences.”

Soucy said she heard from several parents of last year’s campers who said they really saw an improvement in their child’s schoolwork and social interaction.

“This camp really helped some of these kids make tremendous breakthroughs in their personal lives,” she said.

Besides the nurses, counselors, chaplains and social workers that will be available to help grieving campers, there will be a special staff member on hand offering her services.

Dolly the therapy dog is a miniature poodle rescued from a shelter in Naples. She and her handler, Chaplain Bill Tabbert, regularly visit hospice patients to give them care and comfort.

Therapy animals have proven to lower blood pressure, decrease pain and depression and elevate moods of hospice patients.

“If I ever show up to visit a patient without her, some of them have even asked me to leave and come back with Dolly!” Tabbert explained.

For more information about Camp Coral Keys, free bereavement services or HospiceCare, please call (305) 852-3223.


Contributed Photo

Dolly, HospiceCare of South Florida’s therapy dog, will be on hand during Camp Coral Keys at Pigeon Key Oct. 9-11 to help children ages 6-13 cope with the loss of a loved one.Dolly the Therapy Dog



PK aerial
Photo by Deborah DiRenzo

Pigeon Key will host the Second Annual Camp Coral Keys Oct. 9-11.Pigeon Key Aerial



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