Amanda the Panda Family Grief Center in West Des Moines, Iowa offers the most comprehensive and ongoing services for children, teens, adults and families struggling with a death of a loved one in the state of Iowa.
The idea for Amanda the Panda was born in 1979 and created in 1980. The primary focus for Amanda the Panda during the first seven years was to be a special friend to children living with cancer. Amanda made frequent visits to children in their homes, hospitals and schools, locally and statewide, bringing a huge heart, a listening ear and lots of warm and wonderful bear hugs!
Almost immediately, another dream surfaced…a week-long, residential summer camp in Iowa, exclusively for children living with cancer. The focus of the camp would be on childhood, not cancer, and the children would experience the week of a lifetime. Four years of continued growth and in 1988, Children’s Cancer Connection took over Camp-A-Panda which continues serving children today.
Amanda the Panda’s work with grieving children evolved naturally from this work with children living with cancer. In the fall of 1982, Grief Camp, was created. This was a weekend camp exclusively for children who have experienced a death through accident, illness, suicide or homicide. Our Grief Camp is the first and longest running camp in the United States for grieving children and teens.
That first camp has now grown into two weekend camps each year for children and teens 6–17 as well as adults. The adult camp was first held in 1989. To date, about 35,000 children, teens and adults from across the state have participated in Amanda the Panda’s programs.
In 2013, Gregory and Suzie Glazer Burt gifted Amanda the Panda with a forever home at 1821 Grand Avenue in West Des Moines, the site of a former Kavanagh House. The Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute chose Amanda the Panda as the site for their class project and completely revamped the entire building, making it a beautiful facility to welcome our families into for support groups, family nights, and visitors of all kinds.
In November, 2014, Amanda the Panda became a program within the family of compassionate non-profit services offered by HCI Care Services and Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa. Amanda the Panda’s expertise in supporting children and adults through the grieving process is naturally aligned with the bereavement services offered by HCI Hospice Care Services and the programs offered by VNS of Iowa that address children’s health and mental well-being. This partnership is an exciting one that allows us to continue to serve more children and families across our state.
As we look towards 2017 and beyond we are eager to share our story and mission and continue to provide hope and healing to thousands more families with your support. With vision and dedication, Amanda the Panda will continue to bring compassion, healing and joy to children. We invite you to share in the help our organization brings.