A camp for hope and healing
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A camp for hope and healing

Families who lose members to cancer need a chance to grieve and a reason to hope. Thanks to the efforts of three area residents, cancer-stricken families will soon have help coming to terms with their loss.

Organized by Meri Pollock, Henry Klein, and Avi Lewinson, Hearts of Hope, a weekend bereavement camp, will welcome grieving families, providing both activities and counseling sessions.

The camp — specifically for families that have lost members to cancer within the past two years — will give family members access to counselors from Cancer Care of New Jersey.

Klein, Pollock, and Lewinson mourn the loss of a mutual friend, who passed away last year. As they watched their friend’s family deal with the loss, they realized the need for a place like Hearts of Hope.

"The idea is to provide a place for families to grieve together with others in a similar situation, and supported by experts," Pollock explained. "Our goal is to fill their hearts with hope for the future."

The first Hearts of Hope weekend is scheduled for June 9-11 at a New Jersey Y camp in Milford, Pa. It will offer regular summer camp activities such as swimming, boating, and hiking; and on Saturday, Cancer Care will offer separate counseling sessions for adults and children, followed by a combined session.

"I think it’s a great idea for the families to be together, especially after experiencing a loss," said Susan Barrett, an oncology social worker at Cancer Care in Ridgewood. Barrett and director of social services Kathy Nugent will spend the day working with the families. After the weekend, Cancer Care’s services will be available to the families for follow-up counseling.

Lewinson, executive director of the JCC on the Palisades, is helping Pollock spearhead the project, although the JCC is not officially involved with this first weekend.

"We’re trying to do this quickly, so I didn’t have the time to meet with my staff to bring this to the board," Lewinson said. "All too often I hear about people who, one day, everything is fine, and the next day, their lives are completely turned around. I can’t begin to imagine what that’s like for the parents and the children."

The weekend in June is the first and only session planned for now. If it is successful, Pollock hopes to hold more. The camp is open only to the first 15 families to sign up — a small group would be more manageable and make it easier for the families to connect with each other, Barrett said.

Thanks to a $’,500 donation from Phyl’s Fund, a foundation started by Klein in Demarest four years ago, Cancer Care’s counseling sessions will be totally subsidized. All the costs for the weekend — which Pollock estimated at approximately $400 per family or $100 per person — will be covered through private donations.

"There are donors lined up to cover the cost, so there would be no expense to any of the families participating," Lewinson said. Lewinson and Pollock are both volunteering their time to put the camp together.

Klein started the Phyl’s Fund foundation after his wife, Phyllis, died of breast cancer. Donations are funneled through Temple Emanu-el in Closter.

"If you’re with people who’ve gone through similar experiences, there’s a lot of empathy," Klein explained. "We hope [the camp] will make them feel better."

If the first session is successful, the organizers hope to hold more sessions next summer, and possibly other programs throughout the year.

"My vision and hope is [that] this program will be the first of many programs to come," Pollock said. "There’ll be more weekends … to help people who have suffered from other causes as well."

Hearts of Hope is just starting to spread the word, but Lewinson and Pollock expect a good turnout once the message gets out. Interested parties should contact Cancer Care of New Jersey at (’01) 444-6630.

"This is really a support group," Lewinson said. "But it’s a chance to spend the weekend together [with others in a similar situation] and build on those relationships."

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