LUDLOW FALLS — For children, coping with the loss of a loved one can be scary, overwhelming, and isolating. These are the kids that Camp Courageous, a five-day program being held this Monday through Friday at Ludlow Falls Camp, aims to take under their wing and help heal during their time of grief.
Now in its 24th year, Camp Courageous is offered free of charge to children in the Miami County area who have experienced loss due to the death of a friend or family member. The camp is coordinated by the Generations of Life Community Bereavement Resource Center, a service of Ohio’s Hospice of Miami County.
“We send out flyers to all the schools,” said Kimberly Walker, camp director and bereavement counseling professional with Ohio Hospice of Miami County. “Parents call in, and then we send them a registration form. We want to know about their loss, the symptoms they’re having, who it is that died, if they were there, and how they heard. It’s nice to screen them ahead of time. Today, when they showed up, I knew them by name. I could greet them. It helps to take a little of that anxiety away.”
Participating campers are split into groups by age. At the start of the week, each camper is gifted with a stuff animal, which symbolizes a different function of the grief process.
“The youngest group gets the lamb, which is a symbol of love,” Walker said. “The next group gets the lion, which is a symbol of courage. The next group gets the giraffe, which is a symbol of stretching and growing through our grief. The oldest group gets the elephant, because the elephant is known to mourn their dead.”
Campers are occupied throughout the week with therapeutic activities involving art, music, outdoor activities, and group sessions. Each day, lunches donated by various local organizations are provided to campers.
“Some may come a little shy, but as the week goes on, they make best friends, they begin sharing, and they just blossom,” Walker said. “We’re trying to give kids a setting of nature with adults that are comfortable talking about death that are okay with their anger and their sadness. We’re giving them permission to share, and we’re trying to provide different avenues to do that.”
On Friday, a remembrance service is held in the camp chapel in honor of those who participating campers lost.
“The main part of the service is to allow the children to come up and share,” Walker said. “That could be a picture or an item or a story or a memory. We’re inviting their family members, so they may come and be part of that process.”
Walker, who is serving as camp director for her second year, insists that the most important resource the program needs is adult volunteers.”
“The one thing we always need is adults,” Walker said. “We have to make sure the adults can handle the number of children coming to camp. Last year, we were a little short. The sad stories are out there, so we always need all the help we can get.”
For more information about Camp Courageous, visit www.hospiceofmiamicounty.org/event/camp-courageous/.