CLARION — The goals of Camp Hope, held Friday, June 28, by the Clarion Forest Visiting Nurses Association (VNA) for area children who have experienced the death of a loved one or close friend, were two-fold according to program co-director Sue Evans.
“One of the big things that we want to get across to the kids is that they’re not alone. Other kids are going through this and you will survive and you can thrive,” said Evans, bereavement coordinator and grief counselor with the VNA.
“The other big thing for us is that we help the kids learn good ways to cope with those losses. Learn to kind of savor and cherish the memories that they have of their loved ones. And also figuring out who their supports are, safe people that they can go to,” Evans said.
Gina Lutz, licensed social worker with the VNA and camp co-director, added, “It’s important the children and adolescents have a promising positive experience to assist them with their bereavement and help to build resilience in dealing with a loss. Children and adolescents of our community need positive programs that support them in the healing journey”
Campers participated in a full day of activities at the Clarion County YMCA which included kite decorating, swimming, Zumba, relaxation techniques, group talk and a candle lighting ceremony. The slate of activities reflected the central tenants of Camp Hope; coping with grief in healthy ways, determining the child’s support system, and dealing with memories.
“Those are the three things that we always try to make part of our camp, no matter how that shapes out to be,” Evans said. “We incorporate those three things, because we feel if we can get those across to the kids it’s going to carry them through the year.
“We are decorating kites this year. So we used the kite body to decorate with memories of the person who died using colorful markers. During that activity we discussed how to take care of and cherish memories of the loved one. The kite tail that gives stability and balance to the kite and keeps it from spinning out of control represents our support system, unique to each child. They wrote who or what their supports are on the tail,” Evans said.
Though the kites can be flown, it is Evans’ hope that each child will hang them somewhere to be looked at on a regular basis.
Zumba was used as an example of an exercise that can be used to help release emotions and stress in healthy ways, while relaxation techniques were taught to show participants how to relax and cope when they become stressed or overwhelmed.
As the day progressed, participants engaged in a group talk activity to discuss and review what was learned, address any concerns that surfaced, and provide encouragement to the campers as they embarked on the journey ahead.
Camp Hope closed with staffers, volunteers, parents, and campers sitting in a circle and lighting LED candles. Attendees lit their candles, which changed colors as they flickered, saying something about their absent loved one or sitting in a moment of silent contemplation. Everybody was sent off with a butterfly hug, with each camper taking his or her candle home as a symbol of remembrance.
“I really think just talking to them and just saying, ‘Hey, I know you’re hurting, you know I’m here, it’s okay to say whatever you think. No one’s going to judge that or be mad at you or upset with you.’ Just trying to keep that communication line open. To me, that’s the biggest thing is if they feel that comfort level, that they can say something and we can talk about it. I think that’s one of the big things,” Evans said when discussing ways to help a child navigate the grieving process.
According to Rainbows For All Children, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing support for all youth as they navigate and heal from loss, 1 in 7 children will experience the death of a parent or sibling.