Camp New Dawn – Helping Families Cope With Grief


This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid-Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for over 15 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid-Shore whom she has met along the way.

Imagine how it feels when the funeral is over, the family and friends have gone home and you are left to pick up the pieces of a very different life after the death of a loved one. This is often when hospice steps in to help individuals and families cope with their new reality without their loved ones.


For Rachel Mansfield, of Centreville, following the death of her partner of 20 years in March 2016, she not only had her own feelings to cope with, but she had to help her 13-year old daughter Skyler cope with the loss of her dad. She recalls, “After the funeral, everyone went back to their lives. I was fortunate that my father encouraged me to call Compass Regional Hospice to get help for Skyler. That was the beginning of our journey with this amazing organization.”


Skyler immediately bonded with her grief counselor at Compass Regional Hospice, Rhonda Knotts, Grief Support Coordinator/Counselor and Camp New Dawn Director. She also learned of Camp New Dawn, a program of Compass Regional Hospice, which provides a healing retreat for children, teens and families that are grieving the death of a loved one. Each August, under the guidance of professional grief support staff and volunteers, campers learn about and express grief in a safe and natural environment. The healing power of fun and friendship helps campers transform grief into hope.


For Skyler and her mother, the death they experienced was compounded by the difficult situation that their loved one suffered from the disease of addiction, which was ultimately the cause of his death. Rachel recalls, “Hospice really helped both of us to cope with the circumstances of Bryan’s death. We neither one got to say good-bye to him. Through Camp New Dawn, Skyler was able to do that through some activities they sponsored.”


Rachel Mansfield (left) and her daughter Skyler Grimes both attended Compass Regional Hospice’s Camp New Dawn, a healing retreat at Camp Pecometh for children, teens and families who are grieving the death of a loved one.

According to Skyler, “The timing was perfect for me to attend the summer camp. I was able to express myself there and tell other kids my story and no one judged me. They showed me love and compassion. Even though I don’t do crafts, the crafts and activities helped me to work through my feelings.” She adds, “I made a pillowcase with a message on it that helps me remember my dad when I sleep at night. I also got to write a letter to him and then we all burned our letters at a remembrance service so the letters would just be between us and our loved one.”


Camp New Dawn started out originally as a weekend retreat for children 22 years ago, with every other year hosting a family camp held with local hospice organizations. The Camp decided to build in the family camp every year so that kids and their parents would get the same set of coping skills. According to Rhonda, “In 2016, 101 campers, seven families and 134 volunteers had fun, built friendships and were taught healthy ways to express their grief. This was the largest group in the camp’s history, which reflects the significant need for grief support in our community.”

Camp New Dawn Buddy Morgan Meekins (left) helped camper Ava Knotts (right) express her feelings of grief during a support group.

The Camp now encompasses five different programs serving younger children (ages 4 to 6), children (ages 7 to 12), teens (ages 13 to 17), adults and families. This annual program of Compass Regional Hospice’s Hope and Healing Center is a three‐day, two‐night retreat each summer at Camp Pecometh in Centreville. At the start of the program, children and teen campers move through therapeutic workshops that are designed to give campers options that meet their interests and skills through music, art and physical activities. Rhonda adds, “All of the workshops offer a lesson that the campers can take away from the experience.”


In between supervised activities such as swimming, fishing, arts and crafts, campers also attend age specific support groups facilitated by adult group leaders who are trained to help express grief in a safe and natural environment. The support groups are designed to help campers process grief in healthy ways and to honor their loved one while filling a toolbox of coping skills. Camp New Dawn also includes an adult and family retreat. Parents of campers arrive for an overnight session with other adults before they are joined by their children at the end of the weekend at family camp where they learn skills that they can take home with them, which will help them rely on one another as they heal.


For Rachel, the adult-only portion of the retreat helped her connect to a network of other women who had also lost their partners. She comments, “Just being connected to them was so helpful. They had been through some of the same things I had. I really enjoyed the comradery we experienced there. I felt loved and embraced, which helped me then be able to do that for my daughter. I don’t know where I would be as a mother without Compass Regional Hospice.”


Both Rachel and Skyler are looking forward to attending Camp New Dawn a second year as they process some of the new issues that have arisen. They agree that Camp New Dawn and the counseling they have received from Compass Regional Hospice have helped them learn how to be survivors of grief.


Rhonda states, “The biggest outcome of Camp for everyone is that they find out that they are not alone. They realize grief happens to everyone.”


The cost to operate Camp New Dawn far exceeds the registration fee charged for each camper and family. The cost to attend is $30 per camper and $75 per family. No one is ever turned away due to inability to pay. Compass Regional Hospice relies on community donations to cover camp expenses so that anyone who needs to attend camp may participate. In 2016, Camp New Dawn was supported by several community fundraisers, donors and grants. Many members of the community also donated materials, art supplies and snacks that were used throughout the weekend.


This year’s Camp New Dawn will be held at Camp Pecometh near the end of August. The retreat for children and teens ages seven through 17 will be held Saturday, August 19 through Monday, August 21. On Monday, August 21, children ages four through six are welcome to attend mini-camp. The adult retreat begins on Sunday, August 22 and continues through Tuesday, August 22 for family camp.


For more information about Camp New Dawn or becoming a volunteer, contact Rhonda Knotts, 443-262-4109 or To learn more about Camp New Dawn, visit



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