Amy Colver, LCSW
Melody Griffith, MSW, LMSW, OSW-C
AOSW Communications Director
Jeanice Hansen, LCSW, OSW-C
To submit a story or information for inclusion in a future issue of AOSW Newsletter, contact Amy Colver or Melody Griffith on the list above.
Resources: “We Can Weekend”
In the medical system, the focus is on the patient. We Can Weekend (WCW) is a unique weekend retreat for patients and their families to gather and connect for support, relaxation, learning and fun. WCW was created by an oncology nurse and social worker and is now supported by Essentia Health Cancer Center in Duluth, Minnesota. The program is run by a Resource Center Manager, an Oncology Social Worker and many volunteers, and is funded through private donations, the center’s foundation, auxiliaries and local groups.
The family retreat happens annually in the fall at a local YMCA camp on Sturgeon Lake outside of Duluth; it just celebrated its 26th year. Often scholarships are provided to families in order to attend. The retreat is promoted through a medical campus newsletter asking for scholarship funds and volunteers.
The weekend retreat is packed with support opportunities—including family communication (disguised as fun), energy work or massage therapy, arts, crafts, rock wall climbing, pontoon boat rides, support groups—and a camp fire complete with S’mores and a sing-a-long. These activities are designed to have a positive outcome that transforms the participants’ coping skills, improves communication among family members and strengthens the family bond.
As patients and their families arrive on Saturday, a volunteer staff person becomes their family partner. This partner helps them sign up for activities, find their cabin and get settled. The families then gather in the large dining hall to work on a family project. This project serves two purposes; it gives the entire family something to do together while other participants are arriving and it helps them introduce themselves to other families. Some of our past projects have used collage art to make a family crest, family mobile or family photo album. Through this art work families start making connections with others attending the retreat. As the day progresses, children are assisted and mentored by leaders who group them into age-appropriate activities such as team-building exercises, crafts, rock wall climbing or wagon rides.
Camp attendees and staff eat meals together, which affords an opportunity to join together to create friendships. In the evening, support groups are available and divided up for survivors, caregivers and parents. During the support groups, the youth are completing their art projects and the teen group is making a luminary for each survivor to light a path to the campfire. The campfire is roaring when the support groups end and everyone gathers to roast marshmallows, listen to music, sing and enjoy an upbeat and fun evening.
On Sunday morning there is a beautiful ecumenical service that is “earthy and outdoorsy.” Each person has an opportunity to light a candle in honor or memory of someone and we plant a tree together. This is followed by a buffet brunch. We are fortunate to have a volunteer photographer at WCW and our closing ceremony is a slide show set to music that recaps the whole weekend. The families are fascinated watching all of the activities others were doing and how the photographer seemed to be everywhere, yet was never noticed! In December, we send a copy of this DVD and a holiday card to each family.
The families’ evaluations and comments are very supportive. Although recruiting patients and families can be a challenge, once the family attends, the most frequent comment is, “This should be longer!” Recently we received this comment from a family: “Since my son was diagnosed we have not been able to take a vacation. We Can Weekend was like taking a trip around the world and it was only 45 minutes from our house." This is the reason the program has succeeded all these years and why we keep it going.