Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this

By Lisa Marcolongo

Photo:  Camp Spero campers and their counselors, Kiana, Ashley, Lily, Victoria, Citlalli and Lorraine. Carrie Vines Photography

June 14, 2019 (Julian) - From May 31 through June 2, 100 children and teens from San Diego and Southwest Riverside Counties attended Camp Spero, a free bereavement camp hosted by The Elizabeth Hospice that is open to the community. Campers spent a fun-filled weekend in Julian, CA, where they honored and memorialized their loved one, learned coping skills and made friends with others who are facing similar challenges. Camp Spero is open to all youth in the community, ages 7 to 17, who are grieving the death of a significant person in their life.

Based on the Latin phrase, Dum Spiro Spero, “While I breathe, I hope,” Camp Spero combines grief-related activities with traditional camp fun. Grief-related workshops included plate breaking (a safe way to express anger, worries and stressors that are often trapped inside), memory box decorating (recalling cherished memories with their special person), and a luminary ceremony (providing children the opportunity to honor – and in some cases, say good-bye to – their loved one). In addition, there was rock climbing, water sports, a talent show, dance party, and much more.

“Losing a loved one is painful at any age. For children, this loss can have a lifelong impact,” said Melissa Lunardini, Camp Director and Children’s Bereavement Manager for The Elizabeth Hospice. “Camp Spero can be a transformative experience. Children are removed from the pressure of being ‘the man of the house’ or being ‘the kid who is different’ because she doesn’t have a mom. It’s a safe space where they can take off their mask and share their story. Campers enter as strangers and leave as a family.”

“These were the most amazing and refreshing days of my life, said Mario, age 17. “At Camp Spero, we laughed and we cried. Friends were made, and hearts were filled. Most importantly, we became one huge family. I'd like to thank EVERYONE for such an unforgettable experience.”

Photo, right:  Camp Spero campers, Nathan and Finn. Carrie Vines Photography

The Elizabeth Hospice offers the most comprehensive children’s bereavement program in San Diego and Southwest Riverside Counties. In addition to Camp Spero, the organization provide in-school grief support groups in 20 school districts, peer support groups in its Children’s Bereavement Centers in Escondido and Mission Valley, and grief education, training and resources for school professionals.

“Camp Spero was a life-changing experience for my son,” said Paula, mother of 13-year-old Sam.  “In the past few days, I’ve seen more of my ‘old’ son than in the entire year since his dad died. He was so impacted by meeting other kids who had actually been in his shoes, who knew first-hand when he was feeling. I can never repay you for helping us navigate through this unplanned journey of death.”

Individuals interested in learning more about grief support services from The Elizabeth Hospice can call 760-796-3705, email or go online to

Camp Spero is made possible through the generosity of individuals and organizations. Donations can be made at

The Elizabeth Hospice

The Elizabeth Hospice, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit healthcare leader, has been providing comfort and counsel to children and adults faced with the challenges associated with a life-threatening illness, and restoring hope to grieving children and adults who are feeling lost and alone. Since 1978, The Elizabeth Hospice has touched the lives of more than 100,000 people in the communities it serves by providing medical, emotional and spiritual support, regardless of patient affiliation or ability to pay. The Elizabeth Hospice is accredited by The Joint Commission and is a member of the California Hospice and Palliative Care Association and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. To learn more, call 800-797-2050 or visit


Error message

Local news in the public interest is more important now than ever, during the COVID-19 crisis. Our reporters, as essential workers, are dedicated to keeping you informed, even though we’ve had to cancel fundraising events. Please give the gift of community journalism by donating at



Gotta Love it!