Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Touched My Heart

So, I've been MIA for a bit. Since I am getting married in October and plan to finish my master's in the spring, I chose a summer placement in Junior League  so I wouldn't have "another" commitment to worry about during the school year. This means that I am doing my placement now instead of the upcoming league year starting in August. My number one choice was Camp Good Grief. Luckily, I got it:)

photo credit: here
**by the way, that is not me

I've spend the past 3 days helping out at a camp that a local grief counseling center puts on. Here is an excerpt from 2008 about Camp Good Grief.

"In the end, they have to let the balloon go.

It’s the final and most difficult part of a journey about 40 children take each year.

For a decade, Baptist Trinity Hospice, through a grant from the Baptist Memorial Health Care Foundation, has been offering a summer camp that no one wants to attend – because in the end, if you attend, you have to let the balloon go.

This year’s Camp Good Grief marked the 10th year the camp has helped children who have lost a loved one.

Every year it's full... 'We were seeing more and more children who had a parent dying or were being raised by grandparents,' said Angela Hamblen, director of bereavement services at Baptist Trinity Hospice. “As a part of hospice care, providing bereavement services for grieving family members was part of the continuum of care. But we saw a growing need to offer something specifically for children.'

The goal of the free annual camp is to give children an enjoyable, accepting and supportive environment in which they can freely express their feelings about the loss of a loved one. Under the guidance of professional bereavement staff, campers have the opportunity to meet with other children who have experienced similar losses, and to engage in activities involving art, music and recreation through which they can explore their grief. But the camp is also fun. They play games, swim, toss water balloons at one another and realize they are not alone; campers have volunteers, their camp buddy, assigned to them during the camp...

In addition to volunteers, pet therapy dogs also attend camp. They complement the work the volunteers do, and sometimes reach campers in a way a volunteer cannot. 'Kids are drawn to the pet
therapy dogs because they don’t tell them what to do,' Hamblen said. 'Campers tell the dogs their secrets. Some cry to the dogs. They are critical to our work with the campers. They also help some of the campers who are disengaged, they are more drawn to the dogs.' And somehow, the dogs just know who needs them. During one camp, a camper did not want to attend the memorial service. He was at camp because his mother had died. Casey, one of the pet therapy dogs, was beside him.

'We begin camp by talking, throwing a ball or squirting mustard on each other,' said Pat Womac. 'But
saying goodbye to a life with their loved one means digging deep and thinking about things that are difficult to face.'

Bereavement programs focus on back to getting kids to do their jobs – which is to have fun. At camp, therapy and play intertwine, and all of the activities trend toward the final emotional event. Campers write letters to their lost loved ones. At teen camp, campers float their letters with a candle. At Camp Good Grief, campers write letters and attach them to balloons they then release. They pour everything they have into those letters — it is what couldn’t be said and what should have been said...

'But saying goodbye to a life with their loved one means digging deep and thinking about things that are difficult to face.' Because in the end, they don’t forget. But they do have to say goodbye. And in 10 years, the final memorial ceremony hasn’t really changed. It is respectful. Each camper has a moment. The only sound is from the names being read. Holding the balloon one moment, the camper then lets go 'Some do it right away, and some don’t want to,' Janet Hunt, volunteer, said. 'One girl held onto the balloon as if it were her father, then, all of the sudden, threw it into the air.'

'Watching the children interact with each other during the ceremony is my favorite time,' said volunteer David Dugger. “It’s silent. Those children all watch each other and honor each other’s pain.” Karen Pope, grief counselor at the Baptist Trinity Center for Good Grief, remembered one camper who didn’t speak the entire camp, but cried when she wrote the letter, knowing that was goodbye. But Pope’s story is what makes the 10-year anniversary not a milestone, but simply a step toward a continually growing mission.

'At the end of camp, following the memorial service, we always keep extra balloons for the volunteers
and staff members in case they want to release a balloon,' Hamblen said." 
article credit: here

This camp was amazing. I could not imagine what it would be like to experience such traumatic loss(es) at such a young age. I cried my eyes out at the memorial service. And like the article said, they had extra balloons for volunteers. I let one go in memory of my paternal grandmother who passed away when I was 17, and for my uncle who committed suicide when I was 15. I pray for them to be at peace at every Mass, but the helped too! When I let it go, it was like letting go of all the pain I was still carrying all these years later. It never completely heals. I think our scars are what tell our story...

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Preppy Girl Meets World said...

Sounds like such a wonderful cause. Kudos to you for being strong and being able to do this.

Seashells and Southern Belles said...

I am definitely tearing up... wow... what a great camp. I know it definitely touched your heart!

Classy Fab Sarah said...

This sounds like SUCH an amazing place!! Even with a full plate, I can't imagine a more fulfilling place to volunteer.


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