The camp is offered on Friday, April 4, and Saturday, April 5, through a partnership with Bradley Initiative for Church and Community.
According to camp director Amy Hicks, there is a lack of counseling services for children experiencing grief.
Hicks served as a school counselor before she founded Helping Paws Healing Hearts. She noticed the lack of services and decided to start a grief camp for area youth. This is the seventh year the camps have been offered.
Helping Paws’ furry friends, dogs Larry, Daryl and Addie, provide pet therapy. Additional therapies include art, music and play.
Hicks explained there is a distinct difference between how adults and children handle grief.
“Adults sometimes, first of all, ignore it and don’t think it is OK to cry or talk about it, or don’t think it is OK to seek counseling,” Hicks said. “Children on the other hand, want to talk about it constantly. They want to talk about their loved one. They want to draw pictures.”
Children want to remember the one they lost. It is their way of ensuring the loved one is not forgotten. Chrissy Jones of BICC explained that while constant reminders can sadden adults, it hurts children to think the memories have slipped away.
Counselors, activities and peers encourage participants to face their grief during the two-day camp.
One aspect of the camp stands out to the youth involved: they are not the only ones who have experienced loss.
Hicks said this is a unique component of the camp participants do not normally experience in daily life.
“You have 50 kids who come together Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. They are stressed. They are strangers. They don’t know each other. They don’t know what to expect. They are anxious,” Hicks said. “However, by the end of Friday night even, after just three hours, they are immediately bonded by one thing. They do not feel like they are the only child that lost a loved one.”
The camp is split between children ages 6-12 and teenagers ages 13-18. Shorter attention spans dictate children move through the therapies at a faster pace. Teenagers will spend a majority of their time in art therapy. Jones said a recent grief camp proved art therapy to be a favorite among older youth.
Both age brackets contain many small groups. Each group receives a color. Teams then meet to choose a name. Hicks said many of the group names are both creative and cute.
Separating into small groups allows students the opportunity to bond.
Added Hicks, “There is a lot of talking.”
Everyone gathers for meals. According to Hicks, participants will eat dinner together Friday night and partake in breakfast before Saturday’s camp at 8:30. All children and teenagers participate in the closing ceremony.
Hicks and Jones both expressed excitement over a new portion of the camp. Caregivers will have the opportunity to participate in a morning session Saturday. Therapists Dr. Rob Coombs and Emily Stone will further explain how caregivers can help their charges continue the grieving process.
Applications for the camp must be in by Friday, March 14. Hicks said she needs a head count to purchase items for the camp. Forms can be found at the BICC office, 2810 Westside Drive N.W. Questions may be directed to Amy Hicks via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.