Camp to help `forgotten mourners' cope with the loss of family, friends


March 07, 2002|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FOR MORE THAN a decade, Camp Nabe has been helping children cope with the loss of a family member or friend. Held one weekend each August at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center on the Severn River, the camp is offered free by Hospice of the Chesapeake's bereavement center.

The camp provides a relaxed, outdoor setting where children of elementary and middle school age can express their feelings.

Because of Camp Nabe's success - more than 60 children applied for last year's camp, creating a waiting list of more than 20 children who were unable to attend - planners considered adding another camp this year like Nabe that would accommodate schoolchildren of all ages.

The solution was somewhat different.

"With that many kids, and the disparity in ages, there seemed to be a need for the older teens," said Karen Frank, director of Children's Bereavement Services at the hospice in Millersville. Rather than duplicate Camp Nabe, the hospice will introduce Phoenix Rising, a three-day retreat for high school-age students in July.

"Older teen-agers are the forgotten mourners," said Frank, who directs both camps.

Support groups and partnering with schools have not been the answer. Frank and her planning team - which includes the Rev. Christine Kennedy, director of the hospice's Spiritual and Bereavement Care Center, and Mary Swanson, a program assistant at the bereavement center - hope that Phoenix Rising will be.

"These young people need to be with their peers," Frank said. "We believe this will be an incredible program, challenging and interactive. It will also be at Arlington Echo, but less structured than Camp Nabe. The camp is planned to ensure safety without the teens feeling as if they are being followed around."

Phoenix Rising will offer mythology, storytelling, physical activity and relaxing social time, with "lots of doing and talking," Frank said.

"We're trying mythology because the theme of Phoenix Rising [from the ashes] is rebirth, to become a healthier, more complete you. We're looking at the heroes in all of us," she said. "We want the teens to know you can survive this, and walk away stronger and better."

Another method of communication being explored for Phoenix Rising is using a video camera. A similar project by the hospice, the University of Maryland Video Press and HBO is to be shown on television this year, Frank said.

The video features a Maryland teen-ager who worked his way through the death of his father by expressing his feelings of loss in front of a video camera. It worked for him, and Frank hopes it will work for other teen-agers.

"It can be hard to talk one on one," she said. "But teens relate to videos and may want to talk to a video camera."

This is not the only way, Frank said, but it's one way.

Betty Asplund, the hospice's former director of bereavement, started Camp Nabe about 11 years ago when there weren't many bereavement programs for children. Now, the focus is on children, Frank said.

"Betty catapulted the idea through the national hospice organization," Frank said, "and we became a model for other camps."

The Millersville bereavement office receives calls throughout the year about the camp. Inquiries have come from Knox County, Ohio, and St. Mary's, and two years ago the center helped Hospice Caring in Montgomery County as it planned its first children's camp last year.

Hospice of the Chesapeake camps are underwritten by the community and the county, Frank said. Grants come from philanthropic foundations, the Anne Arundel county executive's office and the county health department's Adolescent and Family Services, she said. Individuals, churches, a private school and a credit union have also made donations.

Phoenix Rising, for students entering ninth grade through 12th grade, will be held July 19 to 21. Camp Nabe, for middle school pupils, will be held Aug. 16 to 18. Applications will be available May 1. A small registration fee can be waived if necessary, Frank said.

Information: 410-987-2129.

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