Camp Encourage, State of the Heart’s annual grief camp for children, was held Friday, July 16-Sunday, July 18 at the Spiritual Center of Maria Stein in Maria Stein, Ohio. The focus of the weekend camp is to create a safe space for children who have lost a loved one, while also teaching the children how to channel their feelings and what to expect while grieving. “Most of the kids who are coming to camp for the first time are hesitant, nervous, and closed when it comes to sharing their feelings,” Camp Director Ashlee Slavin says. “Watching them open up and realize that how they feel is okay and normal is one of the most rewarding experiences to be part of.”
Through various activities, the campers learned not only about their fellow campers, but about themselves, as well. Through hiking, crafting memory boxes and calming jars, participating in trust exercises, and attending a balloon launch and memorial service, the campers were able to discover why they grieve the way they do and that their grieving process is entirely individualistic. “The best part of camp this year was to see the growth from the campers from Friday night into Sunday afternoon when the camp is finished,” Slavin continues. “We have so much fun throughout the weekend, so it’s really neat to learn more about the kids and their stories.”
State of the Heart relies on donations from the community in order to present Camp Encourage every year. This year, $8,985.00 was donated by the public. “It’s truly amazing that so many people and organizations can see the importance of Camp Encourage,” Bereavement Consultant Sarah DePoy says. “Everyone is always willing to give in order to benefit children who have gone through the difficult experience of losing someone close to them.”
State of the Heart would like to thank everyone who donated toward Camp Encourage and all the volunteers who gave up their weekend to be camp buddies for the campers. “Camp is always successful because of our outstanding volunteers, parents and campers. This year in particular, all of our volunteers seem to support not only the campers, but each other throughout the weekend. Camp can be emotionally challenging for the adults involved and they seemed to connect and support each other even more,” says Slavin.
“Our campers are always so brave and show a lot of courage to come to a grief camp and share their feelings and thoughts about their loved ones and how their lives are impacted because of it,” Slavin shared. When asked what changes should be made for camp, most campers said camp is great the way it is, but all had one request: a swimming pool.