Camp Rainbow participants pose for a group photo on the final day of camp.


Willa Needham’s eyes filled with tears as she prepared to play the first song she learned with her good friend, Jude McAlpin, who passed away in April 2023.

Willa Needham sings “Dancing in the Dark.”

In that moment of grief, Willa was surrounded by support and understanding for the 33 middle and high school students participating in Camp Rainbow, which serves grieving children in Iredell County.

Camper Cru Myers offered words of comfort, telling Willa that he has learned that “Every tear we shed represents a memory we shared.”

“Grief is not linear,” Willa told the teens before singing “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen. ”There are a lot of times I have a burst of emotion, and I love playing music because it helps me get through those emotions.”

The camp, which is offered through Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County’s Rainbow Kidz Pediatric Grief Counseling Program, is an opportunity for children to learn how to cope with their grief in healthy ways, Rainbow Kidz Director Leigh Ann Darty said.

“This has been an incredibly powerful week,” she said. “The sense of connection with the children, with the volunteers — they see they’re not alone on this journey. We’re giving these courageous kids lifetime tools to learn how to deal with their grief.”

The Rainbow Kidz Program has also been surrounded by support, with more than 100 community and HPCIC staff volunteers sharing their time and talents during camp this week and next, when elementary school students will be served.

Those volunteers have provided everything from pizza and cupcakes to yoga, martial arts, music and support animals.

“Our community guests share their gifts at no charge year after year,” Darty said. “We could not do this without the beautiful village that surrounds us.”

Volunteer Grace Eller, 18, first experienced Rainbow Kidz as a participant, following the loss of several family members. Now, she is part of the village giving back to ensure that no child ever has to grieve alone.

“Watching these kids, who have been through so much, laugh and play and smile — my heart is so bright,” Eller said.

As this week’s camp session came to a close, families gathered for a support session of their own with Darty and Rainbow Kidz Counselors Meredith Fleming and Michele Smith. The counselors encouraged the adult family members to attend the available adult grief support group, as well as individual and school-based group support for their children.

“When everybody gets the support they need, it makes a big difference in how we heal,” Darty said.


To learn more about the services provided by Rainbow Kidz, visit


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