By Heather Miller, LCSW, Courier & Press, April 10, 2018 –
“On Saturday, I’m going to help with Camp Memories. I’m excited!”
“What’s Camp Memories?”
“It’s a day-long program for kids that have lost a loved one. It’s a great day.”
“That doesn’t sound fun. That sounds sad. What do you do all day, talk about people dying?”
This is typical of the response I receive when mentioning Camp Memories. Grief is a subject that often makes individuals uncomfortable. The idea of spending an entire day centered on loss is unimaginable to many; however, it’s one of my favorite programs.
When children lose a loved one, they experience a mixture of emotions. Obviously, there is sadness and at times anger, but loneliness is also a key emotion related to grief. After the death, the child must return to school where not many, if any, of their friends and classmates have experienced grief as they have.
According to an article in Social Work Today by Kate Jackson, this feeling of loneliness and standing out may lead to isolation. Often, children cope with isolation by experiencing an increase in anxiety, substance abuse, and physical complaints.
At Camp Memories, losing a loved one is the common denominator among participants. Children spend an entire day surrounded by other people their age that have a true understanding of what they’ve experienced.
Camp Memories began three years ago as a way to address the need to help children in our community cope with grief. The Youth First program takes place on a designated Saturday from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm. Master’s level social workers facilitate the program.
Camp Memories incorporates a variety of activities including sand tray therapy, normalizing grief through games, art therapy activities and free play. Participants spend the day processing their experiences in a safe environment. Additionally, parents participate in an opening and closing meeting to keep them informed about their child’s day.
At the beginning of the day, children are typically hesitant about participating and nervous about what will be discussed. As the day progresses they begin sharing their experiences as well their emotional responses to these experiences. Sadness, anger, guilt, worry, and fear are some of the common emotions children express throughout the day.
As the day grows to a close participants are smiling, chatting, and having fun playing with their new friends. Allowing them an opportunity to talk about their grief through activities geared for children helps them make sense of their emotions.
In my experience as a facilitator for Camp Memories, I have seen children enter with grief weighing heavily on them. I’ve seen these same children leave with a much lighter sense about them. This is why this program is so important and beneficial.
Youth First’s next Camp Memories is scheduled for May 12 at Washington Middle School. If your child has experienced the loss of a loved one and is interested in participating, please contact your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or Laura Keys at 812-421-8336 x 107. Space is limited. This is a free program that depends on donations to continue providing grief support for children.