EXCLUSIVE: Summer Camp helps grieving youth learn to cope with l - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

EXCLUSIVE: Summer Camp helps grieving youth learn to cope with loss

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It's been a little over six months since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that left 26 people dead, including 20 children.

For those left behind, coping with the loss of a loved one can be very difficult, especially for the youth.

Columbus Hospice stepped up to help children in the Valley fight through the pain of losing a family member.    

They invited News Leader 9 to exclusively spend the weekend with them at a camp like no other in our area.

Although it looks like your average camp, "Camp Hope" held at the Pine Eden Christian Retreat Center in Hamilton is everything but average.

"I lost my dad," Victoria "Tori" Way said.

"My grand-dad and my uncle died. And, I've been trying to get that out of my head," Iliyah Campbell said.

Tori, 15, and IIiyah, 13, along with 30 other children ages 6 to 16 are participating in "Camp Hope"; they've all lost a loved one in the past year.  

"We want to help them learn to express their feelings," Columbus Hospice's Robynn Chavez said.

Tori's grandfather became her dad years ago after adopting her.

"My family use to be really close. We had family night. We did everything together," said Tori.

He died of cancer in November.

"He was not only my dad, he was my best friend and hero," said Tori.

While at camp, Tori met Iliyah; Iliyah witnessed her uncle's death first hand.

"[He was] right there in his face when he got stabbed. [I watched] him fall to the ground and blood splattered everywhere. He was holding side, calling for somebody to ‘help me'," Iliyah said.

She said after her uncle's death her grades began to slip and nightmares kept her from sleeping. 

Through group exercises like making memory boxes and horseback riding, campers were taught ways to cope.

"We draw to express our feelings. We did body drawings today and sometimes their heart will be broken. Sometimes you'll see tears in the eyes. A lot of times, they'll connect the drawings to their really helps them express them."

Organizers say it truly takes a village to make sure Camp Hope is a success. With thousands of dollars in donations, each child attends Camp Hope free of charge.

"[Volunteers] are either staffed with Columbus Hospice or volunteers from the community and they just come to volunteer their time because they want to help as much as they can," Chavez said.

Columbus Hospice administrators said Camp Hope is the only one of its kind in Georgia. They say Aflac donates more than $5,000 to the camp.

"I know some people that when they lost their dad they tried to kill themselves; they thought it was the end. It's not the end. You just have to keep going. It is hard but time heals pretty much everything no matter what the situation is," Tori said.

On the last day of camp, campers and their families released balloons with messages to their loved ones attached.

According to the American Cancer Society- there are ways you can help anyone grieving the loss of a loved one.

  • Acknowledge the situation. Speaking directly about death shows you're open to talk about how the person really feels.
  • Express your concern for the person's feelings.
  • Be genuine and don't hide your feelings. Express that you may not know what they are feeling but you want them to know you care.
  • Offer your support. Be there for support in any capacity.
  • Remember, there is no set timetable for grieving. For many people, it takes 18 to 24 months, but for others, the grieving process may be longer or shorter.

Columbus Hospice also offers free grief counseling to anyone in need.

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