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TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 2007

Clint Mason, a Camp Hope volunteer, helps his buddy, James Johnson, fill out his memory book during Camp Hope in Limestone County. The Hospice of Limestone County's bereavement camp helps children who have lost loved ones come to terms with their losses.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Clint Mason, a Camp Hope volunteer, helps his buddy, James Johnson, fill out his memory book during Camp Hope in Limestone County. The Hospice of Limestone County's bereavement camp helps children who have lost loved ones come to terms with their losses.

A camp called 'Hope'
Grieving children find
comfort at hospice event

By Holly Hollman · 340-2445

CAPSHAW — It was a day to remember Reese's Pieces and hugs.

It was spent at a place where grief and laughter converged under shade trees.

The day was June 12.

The place was Camp Hope.

Hospice of Limestone County offered the camp, as it does once a year. The bereavement camp was for children who have lost loved ones, such as Athens sisters Baylee and Presley Carroll, who lost their grandmother, and LeVonta Johnson of Athens, who lost his mother.

Presley, 7, recalled how her grandmother, Sue Scott, kept Reese's Pieces in a bowl near the bed so the girls could grab a handful in the middle of the night.

"She would also take me to Wal-Mart and always bought me something," Presley said.

Baylee, 11, said she would stay up late with her grandmother, and they would watch "Tom and Jerry."

When their grandmother died of cancer, Presley said, she "felt very sad." Baylee said she was both scared and sad.

LeVonta's mother was sick and in the hospital before she died. He hates hospitals because he doesn't like needles.

"I didn't like her having to be in a hospital. When she died, I was sad," the 12-year-old said. "I used to get hugs from her."

Nearly 80 children ages 5-12, who were grieving like Baylee, Presley and LeVonta, played volleyball, swam and fished and learned it was OK to laugh and have fun, even if someone had died.

They created memory books about their loved ones and wrote them notes that they tied to lime-colored balloons and released at day's end.

Director Dana Pressnell said the camp has helped children for 11 years. Limestone children used to go to Morgan County's camp, but only 10 slots were available.

"We knew there was a bigger need than that," Pressnell said.

The local Baptist association, which owns campgrounds and facilities in Capshaw, offered its site for Camp Hope.

"At camp, we teach them it's OK to laugh and act silly, and to get angry if you deal with that anger in a good way, like writing in a diary," Pressnell said. "We teach them there are safe places to go to be alone, and we have them write down a list of people they can go to for help."

Grieving children struggle to express their feelings, she said, so Hospice relies on a book called "Jungle Journey," in which an elephant named Eleanor dies. Each animal reacts differently about the death — for example the zebras are sad, a rhino feels alone and the lions lash out.

"The way the animals reacted, I felt a lot of those feelings, too," LaVonta said.

Pressnell said children have the same feelings as adults do, but they often feel left out.

"They feel like we're keeping secrets from them because adults tend to shield them," Pressnell said. "That's when their imaginations can run rampant and make them feel worse."

It's better, she said, for adults to help children address their grief.

At Camp Hope, each child had a volunteer buddy. The buddies helped children fill out their memory books, hugged them when they cried, or talked with them on a blanket under the trees.

Cathy Brett, who was Baylee's buddy, said an experience at a balloon release two years ago persuaded her to volunteer. Brett was picking up a friend's child when she saw another girl she knew.

"During the release, the girl lost it, and I hugged her while she cried," Brett said. "After that, I felt this was where I was meant to be."

Grief counselors Wendy Fowler and Charlotte Smith said the camp helped each child realize he or she was not alone.

"It makes them feel normal again," Fowler said. "At school, he or she may be the only one who has lost a parent, but here, they meet others just like them."

Baylee said the day allowed her a chance to talk about her grandmother and make a memory book that would help her remember favorite things about her grandmother.

"I put in my book that she bought me a hamster even when Mom said I couldn't have one," Baylee said.

The day for camp was extra special to Baylee because it would have been her grandmother's birthday.

"I think she would like the balloon release," Baylee said. "It would be like we were releasing them for her birthday, and they are green, and she liked green."

How to register

To register a Limestone County child for Camp Hope in 2008, call Hospice of Limestone County at 232-5017. Any child in the county who has lost a loved one within a year of the camp date can attend.

You can also call that number to receive training to volunteer as a buddy.

Individuals or groups can call that number to volunteer to bake goodies, cook lunch or do a project. The Quilter’s Guild, for example, sews security pillows for the children to take home.

Holly Hollman

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