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VOL. 122 | NO. 90 | Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On Letting Go

Camp Good Grief to help children cope with loss for ninth year

By Rosalind Guy

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FROWNS UPSIDE-DOWN: Camp Good Grief will be heading into its ninth year when it begins July 30. The annual three-day event helps children cope with loss. -- Photo Courtesy Of Baptist Trinity Center For Good Grief

Angela Hamblen, director of Camp Good Grief, said one of the annual event's greatest signs of success will come from its summer workers. This year, four of the camp's volunteers are former campers.

"To me ... the biggest success story that I can claim is that here are four people who came to camp as campers themselves, somewhere between the ages of 7 and 16, and now that they're old enough, they're coming back and giving to other children," Hamblen said.

The ninth Camp Good Grief, which helps children deal with loss, will be held July 30 to Aug. 1 at Pinecrest Conference and Retreat Center in LaGrange, Tenn. Attendance is free.

Activities take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Transportation, lunches and snacks are provided. Any child between the ages of 7 and 12 who has lost a loved one in the last two years is eligible to attend.

The deadline for turning in camp applications is May 25. About 40 children attend the camp each year and space is still available.

Camp Good Grief is sponsored by Baptist Trinity Center for Good Grief.

A constructive outlet

One of the campers returning this year as a volunteer serves as a prime example of how the camp benefits participating children, Hamblen said.

"He came to camp and he didn't want to go to camp," she said. "His dad basically forced him to go to camp and he has been a volunteer for several years.

"I actually was speaking to him yesterday," Hamblen continued, "because he's coming back this year and he's in school to become a paramedic-fireman. And listening to him, he's not the same child that we met as a camper (in 2001 after his mother died). He was angry, he didn't want to talk to anyone, and he didn't want his mom mentioned. And to see the turnaround that he's made in his life and the fact that he's giving back to other kids, I don't really know that there is a better success story."

That young man is Matt Giannini, who attended the Teen Good Grief Camp when he was 17. He's now 22.

"(Participants) get to talk to someone who's experiencing grief like they are. They don't grieve like adults because they're not adults. They grieve on the level where they are."
- Karen Pope
Family services specialist for Trinity Hospice Bereavement Center

"My mother was a great one," Giannini wrote in an e-mail. "She cared about me more than anything else in her life. She supported me in everything I did and loved me more than life itself."

Giannini admitted that he was reluctant about attending the camp, but his father was able to bribe him into it with the promise of a new pair of hockey skates.

"When I arrived at the camp, I was a bit nervous and quiet," Giannini said. "I didn't really care to share with anyone how I felt."

But Giannini said once he left, he felt better than he had before coming to the camp. Looking back on the experience, it made a huge difference knowing he wasn't alone.

"Losing someone is a very lonely feeling and it was a great experience to be around other kids my age who knew exactly what I was going through," he said.

Youth, interrupted

Hamblen said children who attend the camp are in different stages of grief and have experienced a wide spectrum of losses.

"When the children come to our camp, they're grieving every type of death you can imagine and many you would never want to imagine," Hamblen said.

Karen Pope, a family services specialist for Trinity Hospice Bereavement Center, said participating in an activity like the Good Grief summer camp can be beneficial because it allows children to interact with others who are suffering similar losses.

"They get to talk to someone who's experiencing grief like they are," Pope said. "They don't grieve like adults because they're not adults. They grieve on the level where they are."

Hamblen agreed, saying children tend to grieve in spurts.

"They need to run around and have fun and play, but they also need time to talk about their feelings, to share memories and also learn ways of coping," Hamblen said.

At the three-day camp, workers take what they know about how children grieve and use it to implement the daily schedule. In addition to being engaged in fun activities involving art, music and recreation, the children also attend small grief-group sessions led by mental health professionals.

"And in that group, they do some type of activity that keeps their hands busy, but it allows them to tell their stories and definitely learn ways of coping," Hamblen said. "We know these kids aren't broken. We're not here to fix them, but what we're here to do is provide them with the resources that they need to continue living a healthy life."

Some people might wonder what can be accomplished in just three days, but over the years, Hamblen said she's seen some amazing things take place at the camp.

Also, if during those three days the workers identify any children who may need follow-up, they can receive individual as well as family counseling at the Baptist Trinity Center for Good Grief, 1038 Oakhaven Circle.

Hope and healing

Camp Good Grief began in 1999 and has helped more than 300 children.

The Teen Good Grief Camp will be held Oct. 19 to 21. The teen camp is an overnight weekend at Camp Bear Track in Drasco, Ark.

"It's a very healing opportunity for kids and teenagers," Hamblen said. "But it's incorporated with fun and no one has ever regretted coming. In fact, many wish they could come back."

Giannini expressed appreciation at being able to help children who've experienced losses similar to his own.

"Coming back as a volunteer to a camp that I went to as a camper is so rewarding," he said. "The experience is so great knowing that I can help kids who are in the situation that I was once in. Until you look back on it, you just don't know how valuable things like this really are."

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