In the spring of 2001 a group of funeral directors attending the annual Minnesota Funeral Directors Association (MFDA) conference discussed how they could continue to help their grieving families beyond the funeral service itself. Having witnessed the first steps of these families’ grief journeys they wanted to help them further along their path of grief.Seeing the greatest need in the children of their families, the Minnesota Foundation for Children (MFC) was established to develop a program that could help grieving children. After extensive research the MFC board joined Iowa’s Amanda the Panda program. In 2003 the first Camp Amanda-Minnesota began with an all volunteer staff and nearly fifty children and teens attending. The program was offered free of charge due to the support of funeral directors in the association and funeral service corporate supporters such as Funeral Directors’ Life and Federated Insurance Company.Under the direction of founding camp director Holly Guncheon, camps were held three times each year around the state. In 2004 volunteers from other fields joined the funeral directors and added a day-long seminar for adult family members called “How to Raise a Grieving Child”. In 2006, Doug Peterson became the camp director and MFC developed its first strategic plan. The plan included staying current with childhood grief research to assure a quality program that met the mission of bringing hope and healing to Minnesota’s grieving children.In 2007 Coral Popowitz took the reins literally, as MFC’s first large-scale fundraiser, Horseback for Hope was held. Two board member funeral directors rode across the state on horseback to bring awareness and donations outside the funeral association that spring. In 2019, Coral retired as Executive Director, and Alex Treitler was hired to lead our organization into the new decade.
Staying true to its strategic plan and organizational value of keeping current with grief research, MFC parted with Amanda the Panda and became Children’s Grief Connection (CGC), developing its own camp program called Hearts of Hope. The Family Grief Connection program was developed and expanded further to meet the needs of the adult family members of campers and teens. In 2009, CGC’s Community Grief Connection program was established to help grieving communities, especially schools, that had experienced a tragedy.Hearts of Hope Family Grief Camp began in 2013 after extensive planning and piloting. Hearts of Hope is a program that addresses the developmental lifespan of grieving families from birth through grandparenthood. Each activity in the program is designed to meet the developmental Tasks of Mourning for each family member.
Children’s Grief Connection will continue its mission of providing hope and healing to grieving families for years to come. In the future, expansion further into our neighboring states, or partnering with other state’s funeral director associations will help bring that mission forward.In the meantime, CGC will continue to look ahead to see what needs of grieving families we can best fulfill. We began an Emerging Adult program within the Hearts of Hope Family Grief Camp. This program is designed especially for those family members 18-24 years old who may have left home, gone to college, or married and began raising children. As part of a grieving family we want to best serve this group’s developmental and specific grief needs.