UPDATE: EveryStep’s top priority is the safety and health of its employees, volunteers, the people in our care, and the people who support us. Amanda the Panda grief groups and many other support groups are now available virtually (click here to register). To view information about cancellations and rescheduling regarding EveryStep program and events, please visit www.everystep.org/about/covid19. 

Learn more about COVID-19 program and services impacts.

About Amanda the Panda 

The idea for Amanda the Panda was born in 1980 by JoAnn Zimmerman. The primary focus for Amanda the Panda during the first seven years was to be a special friend to children living with cancer.  Amanda the Panda’s work with grieving children evolved naturally from this original purpose.

In the fall of 1982, a grief camp was created. This was a weekend camp exclusively for children that had experienced the death of a loved one. 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 aged 5–17, as well as adults. The first adult camp was 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 hospice house. In November 2014, Amanda the Panda became a program within the family of compassionate non-profit services offered by EveryStep. Amanda the Panda’s expertise in supporting children and adults through the grieving process is naturally aligned with the bereavement services offered by EveryStep 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 the future we are eager to share our story and mission and continue to provide hope and healing to many more families with your support. With vision and dedication, Amanda the Panda and EveryStep Grief & Support Services will continue to bring compassion, healing and joy to children, individuals and families. 

Download our brochure.


Amanda the Panda Camps

Overnight Camps: At EveryStep's Amanda the Panda Grief & Loss Camp, children (kindergarten and above), teens, and adults find a place of comfort and support as they connect with others who have experienced the death of a loved one. Campers are grouped with peers their own age and enjoy an overnight experience. Amanda the Panda Grief & Loss Camp is typically offered twice annually - in the spring and in the fall. Some of the activities include tie-dye t-shirts, games, campfire, wagon rides, low-ropes course for teens, candlelight ceremony, small group sessions, and a balloon release.

Day Camps: Amanda the Panda has begun offering day camps for various age groups throughout the year. These events often change in theme and target age group, depending on the needs of the community.

Register for an Amanda the Panda support group or camp.


Amanda the Panda Support Groups

With the goal of promoting peer support and connectivity, our Braving Grief support groups work to recognize how grief affects our minds and our bodies. Our Braving Grief series includes specific groups like Traumatic Loss and Little Footprints: Perinatal and Infant Loss. Each activity helps participants identify and accept grief emotions like anger and guilt, learn healthy coping skills, and create rituals to honor loved ones who have died. Six-week support group sessions are held throughout the year, with meetings taking place on Monday evenings. Every support group includes dinner followed by small group activities based on age and type of loss to facilitate discussion and sharing. Childcare is available upon request for children (preschool-aged and under). Registration is required.

Register for an Amanda the Panda support group or camp.


Cheer Boxes
For those that have lost a loved one, the holidays can be especially difficult. Cheer Boxes are a holiday box of twelve, family-friendly gifts that go out to all families that have felt the pain of losing a loved one. During the holiday season, we want to remind them that they have our support and care. EveryStep Grief & Loss Services hopes to provide Cheer Boxes to hundreds of families each holiday season.

Nominate A Family to Receive a Cheer Box: Do you know of a family or individual who has lost a loved one this year? Nominate them today to receive a Cheer Box from EveryStep! Simply fill out this form and mail it to 1821 Grand Ave, West Des Moines, IA 50265 or email us. NOTE: The 2021 Submission Form is now closed. Please check back in the new year.

Wrap and Deliver Gifts: A lot of love and hard work goes into our holiday cheer boxes, and that’s why we need your help! Volunteers can help wrap gifts, assist with the inventory process, and deliver boxes to families. No skills necessary and we’ll provide all the materials and instructions. This project begins in mid-November and ends in early December. To volunteer, contact Megan Mondt at mmondt@everystep.org.

Sign up to deliver gifts.

Help Provide Cheer Box Gifts: We collect gifts for Cheer Boxes year-round. You can view a list of gifts we are looking for below. We invite you to shop at stores in person or check out our Wish List on Amazon and help us stock up on needed items. If you or your company would like to provide financial support or host a donation drive, contact Megan Mondt at mmondt@everystep.org.

Board games Blankets Candles
Journals Picture frames Puzzles
Floating sky lanterns Amaryllis bulbs


Social Support Events

EveryStep's Amanda the Panda program offers socials that are devoted to engaging participants in activities that promote fun and offer an opportunity for individuals, children, and families to rebuild after the death of a loved one. Bring your whole family and even some friends for a fun social outing offered at various times throughout the year.


School Visits and Presentations

The staff at EveryStep's Amanda the Panda program often visits schools that have individuals who have been affected by the death of a loved one, classmate, or a member of the school staff. School visits have included grief Q&A sessions with students, workshops with staff on how to provide support after a death, and collaboration with school staff to plan and host memorial ceremony after a loss. Activities and discussions are tailored to meet the needs of the school, students, and the situation.


In-School Support Groups

Amanda the Panda provides six-week in-school support groups throughout the year on a first-come, first-served limited basis. In-school groups include age-appropriate activities to help students share emotions and connect with peers who have also experienced significant losses. The in-school groups are unique to other Amanda the Panda programs because they are open to students who have experienced losses beyond death of a loved one, such as loss from divorce, custody removal, absence of a caregiver, terminal diagnosis of a loved one, and more. 


Community Support

Many times, we experience grief as a community. Maybe your organization or workplace has lost a member of its team, or your town is suffering the loss of a special individual. EveryStep offers support to groups and entire communities through our Day of Hope and Healing, and combined effort with other programs that are tailored to the needs of the community. Activities help residents heal after tragedy and promote healing for losses that may not fit within our traditional support groups and camps.


EveryStep Grief & Loss Services' Amanda the Panda Team

Do you have questions for our Amanda the Panda team? Please call 515-223-4847 or email griefandloss@everystep.org




Ashley Mori

Megan Jensen
Program Coordinator -

Chelsey Smith
Program Coordinator -


Amanda Fagen
Program Assistant