Children’s Launches Summer Camp for Bereaved Kids Who Have Lost a Sibling

August 10, 2017

The Supportive Care Program at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC will host Camp Wakchazi, the inaugural camp for children coping with the loss of a sibling.

The camp will be held August 18 to 20 at Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer YMCA in Fombell, Pa.

More than 50 children between the ages of 7 and 17 will enjoy a weekend of activities, including rock climbing, archery, swimming, arts and crafts, and camp fires. Campers are encouraged to make new friends and share their experiences while taking time to heal in a safe and supportive environment.

“Wakchazi is a Native American word for sunflower, which we chose because we believe that our group of siblings who have lost a brother or sister are like sunflowers—strong, resilient and finding the light on dark days,” said Riley Herrmann, coordinator of Camp Wakchazi. “The loss of a sibling turns a child’s whole world upside down. At camp, kids can have fun in a safe place where they are the focus, not their loss. They can talk about their experience as much or as little as they’d like, surrounded by people who can relate.”

Campers are led by volunteer peer counselors, ages 18 to 27, who also have experienced the death of a sibling.

“Having experienced the death of my younger sister, I understand the situation the campers are in,” said 23-year-old Deidra Balchak. “I’m volunteering for Camp Wakchazi because I want to take part in a weekend that allows kids and teens to have their feelings validated about a sibling dying and helps them feel less alone.”

Camp Wakchazi is the newest initiative of the supportive care program at Children’s. The program, founded in 2003, includes pain management, assistance with decision-making, end-of-life care and bereavement support. The team aims to improve the quality of life for patients and families to optimize their comfort during otherwise difficult times.

“The Supportive Care Program assists children with life threatening illnesses and their families in managing their physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological needs,” said Carol May, manager, Supportive Care Program. “Camp Wakchazi addresses the needs of the siblings. It will benefit these children by showing them that they are not alone in this journey.”

Camp Wakchazi has received funding from the A.J. and Sigismunda Palumbo Charitable Trust, Miracles from Maggie, and Layups for Lucy to support the camp for 2017 and 2018.

Media interested in covering camp should contact Andrea Kunicky at 412-692-6254 or

For more information about Camp Wakchazi, visit the webpage.