News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Camp Sunrise offers light in dark times

Eight-year-olds from cabin 3 practiced doing the splits while others banged on old pianos. Counselors rinsed blue finger paint from a little girl’s hair. There was glue everywhere. The kids danced and sang “the blessing song” before dinner, with hand motions to go with the ever-quickening pace of the guitar. Squeals, laughter, and ruckus filled the room. Dinner plates, full from the buffet, had heaps of black olives only (“I love olives”) or an excessive amount of sliced limes (“I squeeze one lime onto each tortilla chip!”). These are just kids, but they also carry with them something unifying: the reason they are at camp — and that is heartbreak.

For the 26th year, Hospice of Redmond hosted Camp Sunrise, a grief camp for children. Camp Sunrise, which was held this year June 14-16 is a three-day overnight camp at Suttle Lake, about 13 miles west of Sisters. It is held every third weekend in June. Children are referred to the program through their school counselors, family and friends, the Family Access Network, and other local programs. Camp Sunrise typically hosts up to 40 children between the ages of 7-14. There is no cost for a child to attend Camp Sunrise.

Camp Sunrise is exclusively offered through Hospice of Redmond, a community-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit Hospice organization with deep roots in Central Oregon since 1981. Hospice of Redmond created the Camp Sunrise program with the belief that every child deserves the opportunity to grieve in a safe, supportive, and understanding environment. Children grieving a death can share their experiences with other children going through something similar and move through the healing process. The children attending camp do not need to have had their loved one on service with Hospice of Redmond; no connection to the organization is required for a child to attend camp. Camp Sunrise is not affiliated with a specific religious practice.

Most of the kids who attend have lost a parent, often suddenly. It is not uncommon for them to be grieving a parent who died by suicide. Other children grieve siblings, classmates, grandparents, and even pets.

The curriculum for Camp Sunrise was created by social workers. The day of arrival, campers are given new colorful pillow cases and quilts which they get to pick out. The kids meet their cabin mates and counselors, they listen to a story about grief, participate in an energizing activity, and gather around a camp fire where they are given the opportunity to share why they are at camp. Not all campers share about their loss on the first day.

The next day is packed full with a fashion show wherein the kids can don attire representative of how they may be processing their grief (ie: “the clown,” “the baby,” the tough guy,” etc). They also learn that grief does not always mean sadness. Sometimes grief means being angry, being lonely, or even out of control. In the afternoon, the kids make two trademark crafts: one is a “power stick” (a walking stick), which the kids paint and decorate in memory of the person they lost. The power stick is meant to represent the power of love. The other craft is a memory boat. The memory boats are made from all natural materials — pieces of bark with pebbles, rocks, feathers, and flowers — in memory of their loved one. In the evening, campers present their power sticks to the group and counselors help them light a candle in memory of their loved one.

The next morning, campers walk with their memory boats, singing songs in unison down to the lake. Each memory boat is different. Many kids write on the paper sails of their boats in pencil.

“I love you mom.”

“I miss you Papi. Have a great day.”

The children launch their boats into the lake and “let them go,” watching as their boats drift back into nature.

When staff asked campers what they learned the most while at Camp Sunrise, they shouted out things like: “We all have different feelings but they’re all okay.” “It doesn’t matter how old, tall, or short you are, we all have grief.” And “You don’t have to grieve alone.”

Kat Rachman, the Bereavement Coordinator for Hospice of Redmond and the Director of Camp Sunrise, has a background in drug and alcohol counseling. She believes that Camp Sunrise, in many ways, is a preventative program for the Central Oregon community.

“Unattended grief manifests in harmful ways for people,” said Kat. “Many adults’ drug and alcohol problems stem from unaddressed grief in their childhood.”

In June of 2025, Hospice of Redmond hopes to offer both a three-day overnight camp for children ages 7-12, as well as a day program for teens ages 13-17. Next year will be the program’s 27th year.

Father’s Day weekend in the mountains, little bodies, little hearts and vibrant personalities danced, laughed, cried, and wiped their tears with their stuffed bears. They learned that they are not alone. “What will they miss most about Camp Sunrise?” the kids were asked:

“New friends.”

“My cabin.”

“The music.”

And “bunk beds.” Because after all, they still are just kids.

If you know of a child who could benefit from Camp Sunrise, you can learn more at or you can call 541-548-7483 and ask for Kat.

If you are an adult struggling with grief, Hospice of Redmond hosts a free bereavement group on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at their office next to Redmond High School: 732 SW 23rd St., Redmond, OR.

If you are interested in donating financially, or donating your time to Hospice of Redmond or Camp Sunrise, you can stop by, call, or learn more at


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