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Camp takes a kids-eye approach to handling grief surrounding loss

Children aren’t miniature adults.
When a child loses a loved one, the emotions they experience – and the way in which they grieve – can be very different from the way adults cope with loss.
That’s where Camp Courage comes in.
The special children’s day camp is a project of Mountain States Hospice, and is designed to help children and teens who have recently lost a loved one work through their grief.
“This is the fourth year for this program and I have worked with it from the beginning,” said Anna Butler, a chaplain with Mountain States Hospice. “Often there are no bereavement programs for children. There are not many options for children dealing with grief.
“This gives them not only a chance to process their own grief but to meet other children who are going through the same thing so they do not feel alone or awkward.”
Being with peers who are going through the same thing can be very beneficial to the children, Butler said, adding that, sometimes, children will hold back when their parents are around and not express what they are feeling.
Camp Courage uses storytelling, games, relaxation and arts and crafts to help kids work through their feelings.
“If I were to interview them face-to-face with eye contact, it can be intimidating for them,” said Butler, adding that giving children something to do with their hands often comforts them and “frees up their mouth” to talk.
Butler said it is important for parents to realize that their child may grieve in different ways than they do.
“Sometimes kids process things on a much shorter time scale,” she said. “They can be sad one minute and the next be playing outside. They do care, they just show it in a different way.”
Children who are grieving can sometimes become withdrawn or may “act out” at school, Butler said.
It can be difficult for children to put their feelings into words, so the counselors at Camp Courage will help the children express their emotions through drawings and other expressive media. Parents will receive a take-home packet with a letter describing what their child experienced that day, and contact information for various resources that can help with ongoing counseling if necessary.
At the end of the day camp, the children participate in a balloon release, which Butler said can be “heartbreaking.”
Camp Courage is led by professional grief counselors and trained professionals including social workers, teachers and spiritual counselors. The camp is for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The program is sponsored by Mountain States Hospice and is underwritten by Morris-Baker Funeral Home.
The camp will be held on July 1 from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. at Munsey United Methodist Church on East Market Street in Johnson City. The camp is free to attend but children must pre-register by June 10.
For more information or to register, call April Collins, bereavement coordinator with Mountain States Hospice, at 431-1646.