Last Saturday and Sunday, the Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center was filled with the exuberant, giggling commotion of kids attending Camp Journey, the first camp held by Abbey Hospice for children grieving the loss of a loved one.
The free day-camp, attended by seven children ranging from elementary to middle school age, was designed to let the children express and work through their grief in positive ways with structured activities, art therapy, and games.
Callie Currington, 29, director of Camp Journey and bereavement coordinator at Abbey Hospice, felt there was a definite need in the community for something like this.
"Oftentimes you'll talk to a parent who'll express some concern about their child," she said. "Kids don't always have the tools to deal with grief like adults do. They can't really verbalize what they're feeling. Not that adults can necessarily. But kids really don't."
Currington, a Presbyterian minister who began working at the Hospice in December, had led similar camps in Florida for kids living in areas that had gone through serious hurricane damage, and she had enjoyed the experience.
Some of the therapeutic activities at Camp Journey included making figures out of playdough representing a loved one they had lost and drawing pictures for different feelings such as fear, love, confusion and joy.
In another activity, the children gathered up potatoes labeled with anxieties, hurts and feelings and loaded it into one bag to demonstrate the difficulty of carrying a burden alone. When the potatoes were distributed among the group, the burden was much lighter.
While the camp gave them a safe place to express their thoughts and feelings, it also allowed them to have fun just being kids.
They enjoyed traditional camp activities, such as nature walks, cook-outs, and group games. They excitedly reported back about the alligator they had seen in the center's reptile exhibit, and one child cradled a jar holding a frog named "Airbud" that the center had found hopping around.
"It's a time for them to learn and grow, but it's supposed to be fun," Currington said. "So they leave feeling like 'I went to camp and it was a blast.'"
In this first year of the camp, the 10 adults, mostly volunteers from the hospice, outnumbered the children. But that seemed just fine with the children, who had plenty of attention, and with the adults, who joined in on most of the games.
Addie Massey, an adult volunteer and administrative assistant at the Hospice, was glad she had enrolled her daughter Bella in the camp to help her deal with the loss of a grandfather whom she had been close to.
Massey said Bella learned there were ways to express what she was feeling besides crying. Bella enjoyed the camp so much she wanted to go back again on Monday, even though the camp was over.
Currington is looking forward to holding the camp again next year and hopes to make it an overnight camp eventually, though that would require finding more sponsorship. This year's camp received donations from businesses including Freshway Market, Michael's, Sign-a-rama, Bank of Monticello and received a discount from the Charlie Elliot Center.