Smiling and laughing, 35 campers arrived at the Singing Hills campground Thursday, not showing that they were grieving the loss of a loved one just days before.
Camp Good Grief is a day camp for children grieving the loss of a loved one. It is sponsored by the Venango VNA Foundation. Volunteers organized symbolic exercises as well as fun activities for the entire day.
At camp, the children remembered and shared about themselves and the people they have lost.
To have the campers show their true feelings, each of them were handed a mask to paint different colors according to how they felt. Some of the colors were blue, sad; orange, happy; green, scared and pink, hopeful.
Theresa Dando, 8, painted her mask entirely orange adding blue and pink on top. She said her grandpa died Wednesday because he was taken off of “machines.”
“7 o’clock he died, 7:10 he got to heaven. It takes 10 minutes to get to heaven,” Dando said.
Tension was broken by a beach ball being tossed around to the nine kids at tables. Participants received a “If you really knew me ” question once they caught the ball as an “ice breaker” to introduce themselves.
They laughed and found common interests in music, clothing and food. Then each person was handed a box with an assortment of magazines and markers.
It wasn’t about them anymore. Now it was time to show who they were missing by creating a box that represented their loved one.
Piece by piece the kids cut out and glued pictures that reminded them of who they lost. As the box is covered in magazine cuttings, they told stories to match the image.
Sarah Handy, 15, cut out a picture of cookies and a boat to paste on her box. Handy adds things to the box in memory of her grandma who died in 2010. She said the cookies represent how they used to make them together and the boat shows how her grandma used to travel and go on cruises a lot.
“We always made (cookies) at Christmas,” Handy said.
McKayla Snow, 17, made her box for her dad and brother. She added a picture of a Waldameer Park advertisement on her box to show how her family went there every year. Additionally, she cut and glued golf pictures and a sports jersey on the side.
Dad liked sports a lot; “that’s all he really liked,” Snow said.
Craig Adams, a volunteer camp counselor, laughs and makes jokes to the kids during the “ice breakers” and “memory boxes” activities.
“If you can get them to laugh, that’s the key to get them to talk,” Adams said.
He told the children his story and why he’s been coming to camp for the last 12 years. Adams lost his father to a heart attack, mother to a stroke, and son, Luke, to suicide all in 1992.
After Adam’s son committed suicide, he started a program called Survivors Of Suicide which lasted five years. Once he met his second wife, Rose, who volunteered annually at Camp Good Grief, he decided to become a camp counselor too in order to continue helping those who were grieving.
“What (the children) have to understand is we are doing these symbolic things but we are actually preparing them for the next one,” Adams said.
Gary Ducharme, also known as the “Eggman”, has been volunteering at the camp for 13 years.
“At the end of the day you are mentally and physically exhausted,” Ducharme said.
After the first year, he said he thought he would never do it again. Then a child ran up to him in Franklin and wrapped his arm around his leg yelling “Eggman!” At that moment, he realized he could make a difference in a child’s life and continued to come back.
Kids lined up so Eggman could hand them an egg to throw at the faces they drew on the cardboard covered in plastic.
Raquel Knight, 7, tells how her family buried her grandma Wednesday as she draws a blue sad face on the yellow board.
“I actually feel happy for my grandma, she’s not suffering anymore,” Knight said.
She grabbed an egg and threw it at the sad face.
One by one, each camper threw eggs at the wall to release their feelings. The harder the egg was thrown the more their peers clapped as the yellow yolk and white egg shells splat over the cartoon faces.
“It was better than last year,” Hannah King, 12, said. “It just relieved more stress than last year.”
As the day continued, everyone became excited for swimming and the bonfire, which ends the night until next year.
-Article byfor The Derrick