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. This partnership is an exciting one that allows us to serve more children and families across our state.

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 & Loss Services will continue to bring compassion, healing, and joy to children, individuals, and families. 

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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. Seasonal six-week support group sessions are held four times throughout the year. Every support group includes dinner followed by small group activities based on age and type of loss to facilitate helpful 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

Cheer Box is an annual event to wrap and deliver gifts to grieving families during the holiday season. The holidays can be an especially difficult time after the death of a loved one. Cheer Boxes are delivered to the doorstep of the recipient, and are meant to send comfort and help to honor their loved one during an especially difficult time of year.

Cheer Box nominations are now closed for 2022 as we are at a waitlist. To add your nomination to the waitlist or to receive updates once nominations have been opened for 2023, please email . Thank you!

If you or your company would like to provide financial support or host a donation drive, contact Megan Jensen at mjensen@everystep.org

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. If you have questions, please email griefandloss@everystep.org.


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, a 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 ceremonies after a loss. Activities and discussions are tailored to meet the needs of the school, students, and the situation. If you have questions, please email griefandloss@everystep.org.


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. If you have questions, please email griefandloss@everystep.org.


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, a 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. If you have questions, please email griefandloss@everystep.org.


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

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Ashley Mori
Program Director
MA, LMHC, IADC
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Rachel Wolfswinkel
Program Manager
Rural Schools
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Taylor Clemens
Program Coordinator
Programs
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Amanda Fagen
Program Coordinator
Volunteers

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Megan Jensen
Director
Volunteer Resources
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Alicia Olsen
Program Coordinator
Schools
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Marina Cruz-Espino
Program Coordinator
Schools