Children and teenagers who have suffered the loss of a friend or family member within the last year can sign up for a Grief Camp set for Sept. 19-20.
The camp is offered through a partnership between Helping Paws Healing Hearts and Bradley Initiative for Church and Community.
BICC Youth Programs Director Chrissy Jones encouraged caregivers to consider the camp.
“It is a very unique experience their child will not get [in another place],” she said. “Nowhere else will their child be surrounded by people who understand recent grief.”
The camp is made available for free to children ages 6 to 12, and teenagers ages 13 to 18. Both groups are to meet at Blythe-Bower Elementary for registration at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19. The two larger groups will then be separated into smaller groups for age-appropriate therapy exercises.
A meet and greet with counselors, therapy dogs and peers will kick off the two-day camp.
Amy Hicks of Helping Paws explained the welcome and initial activities are meant to disperse some of the participants’ nerves.
“These are kids from all over the community,” she said. “They are not just from one school. A lot of these kids don’t even know each other.”
Puppeteer group “Kids on the Block” will start off the children’s therapy camp with stories and laughter. The teen participants start their grief camp with a separate activity in another room of the school. The two camps convene for dinner before launching into two sessions. Caregivers will pick up the participants at 8 p.m.
Participants will return at 8 a.m. Saturday morning for the second day of the grief camp. Breakfast and lunch will be served for the children and teens as a part of the camp. A rotating schedule will keep the groups moving until the 1 p.m. pick-up time.
The various sessions involve play, music, pet and art therapy methods. Evangelistic Singers of Lee University, various licensed counselors and volunteers will help with different portions of the weekend.
A special program will be offered to parents and or caregivers from 9 to 11 a.m. at Blythe-Bower Elementary. Dr. John Vining of Youth Counseling Services will lead the session. Hicks said it is a time for the adults to reflect on their loss. The session will also provide pointers for how to help the children and teens through the cycle of grief.
The structured schedule ensures participants learn various methods for handling grief without being too strict.
“If a kid gets upset or just feels they need to talk, they are always free to come out,” Hicks said. “We don’t make them stay in a session. If they feel ready to really open up right then, [they can]. Even though it is very structured, we are still flexible.”
The two-day camp will culminate in a final program led by the young participants. Each student has an opportunity to talk about their loved one and share what they learned over the weekend. Hicks said there are always equal amounts of tears and laughter.
Jones stressed the weekend is not meant as a time to wallow.
“It is a grief camp and there is sadness because it is grief, but all of the kids [who participate] have a lot of fun, too,” she said. “They are able to let some of that grief go and really process it. They don’t spend two days crying. They really enjoy their time with the kids.”
All of the agencies and counselors involved in the grief camp will make their business cards readily available to parents and caregivers at the close of the camp.
The camp is made possible through a grant offered by the United Way of Bradley County.
Information about the youth camp can be found by contacting BICC at 559-1112 or requesting the information from a school counselor in the Bradley County or Cleveland school systems.