Enduring the death of a parent, sibling or friend is not easy — and Kindred Hospice wants to make sure children are given a way to express their feelings about such a loss at a free camp.
"It's something we don't do enough of and sometimes we forget that children need the opportunity to work through their grief as well," said Jen Jensen, volunteer coordinator for Kindred Hospice.
Jensen directs Camp I Believe, a bereavement camp for children ages 7 to 17 made possible through the Grace Hospice Foundation.
"It's fully funded; it's 100 percent free for the children," Jensen said. "It's our outreach to the community."
The camp takes place over two days, providing support and education to children and teens who have experienced the death of a loved one.
"We try to do a good balance of things that are important for them to learn and grow," Jensen said.
Camp I Believe schedules activities and programs to help campers to express their feelings, build confidence, foster a sense of community and identify with other children that are experiencing similar grief-related struggles.
Jensen noted there is one adult for every two campers at Camp I Believe, a ratio that allows for immediate counseling whenever a child wants to talk about their loss.
"Many children don't understand the feelings they are feeling are due to the grief," Jensen said.
The campers learn about how grief manifests both emotionally and physically in small groups divided by age and led by licensed counselors, pastors and social workers.
"It's fascinating to watch, as those hours progress, they open up to each other," Jensen said.
Campers can also participate in a variety of activities including climbing a rock wall, paddle boating, field games, making s'mores around a campfire and zip-lining into a lake. Children can make crafts such as bracelets and journals as a way to remember their loved one and cope with their grief.
"They get to just be a kid again and work through the loss," Jensen said.
Jensen pointed out that losing a loved one may have resulted in major changes in a child's life such as having to move, changing schools or their family facing financial challenges.
Part of the benefit from bringing the children together is showing them they are not alone in their grief.
"When kids are at school and they've lost somebody, they think they're the only ones and that no one else understands," Jensen said.
Two memorial sessions are held, with children being able to float candles into a pool and participate in a balloon launch in honor of the person who died. They are also given the opportunity to talk about what that person meant to them.
"Maybe at the funeral they heard other people talking about the person they lost, but they didn't have a chance to talk," Jensen said.
Camp I Believe volunteers realize the grieving process does not end when the camp is over and provides resources for the children and their families.
"We meet with parents and caregivers when they arrive (to pick campers up) and tell them what the children learned," Jensen said. "...We think it's important to equip them as well."
Jensen said 50 spots are available for this year's Camp I Believe, which will take place July 20 and 21 at Wheat State Camp in Augusta. The camp is open to any child between the ages of 7 and 17; RSVPs must be completed by June 21.
For more information, contact Jensen at 620-245-0891 or Jennifer.email@example.com.