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Camp Erin provides support, fun for grieving kids
For Maggie Newhouse, 11, Camp Erin was more than a place where she learned to canoe and earned the nickname “Miss Determined” for not giving up until she climbed to the top of a rock wall.
It was also a place to remember and grieve her dad, who killed himself when Maggie was in kindergarten.
“It’s a really happy and fun environment where you’re all working together to remember the loved ones that died,” Maggie said.
Camp Erin, a partnership between Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and The Moyer Foundation, is for kids who have experienced the death of someone close to them. The three-day camp weaves grief support in between typical camp fun including archery, campfires, swimming and games. This year’s camp begins on Friday, June 10.
“We give them the tools to process and remember the person in a place where they can just be kids,” said Heather Neal, Supervisor of loss and support services for BRIDGES: A Center for Grieving Children at Mary Bridge.
Camp Erin is free to campers and funded partially by The Moyer Foundation. The rest is covered by grants and donations. The Moyer Foundation helps sponsor 40 similar camps in 25 states, making Camp Erin the largest network of bereavement camps in the country.
In Pierce County, Camp Erin is held at Camp Seymour, a YMCA facility on the Key Peninsula. More than 300 children have attended the camp, now in its seventh year.
The campers, ages 6 through 17, usually have lost parents or siblings. Camp Erin is often the first time the kids meet others who have gone through similar experiences.
“So many of the kids don’t have an opportunity to know others who are grieving,” Neal said. “Often one of the first things they’ll say is, ‘I had no idea there were so many other kids who had someone who died.’”
Maggie attended Camp Erin two summers ago. Five years prior, her dad, an avid hunter, shot himself in the woods. He had long battled depression.
Maggie’s memories of him are cherished, but few. She recalls her dad taking her to a Mexican restaurant and that his favorite color was blue. Her mother, Christy Barker, said her daughter rarely told people about her dad’s death.
But talking about her dad was more comfortable at Camp Erin.
“Everyone is very understanding and no one makes fun of you,” Maggie said.
Maggie brought a picture of her dad – one that shows him smiling next to his first moose – to camp. She decorated a Styrofoam star candle with blue jewels in his honor. Then she and the rest of campers floated their candles in the pool on the last night of camp.
“All the candles were lit and we sat around like a big family,” Maggie said. “It was an awesome way to remember everyone, and to know that they not really gone, but that they are still in our hearts.”
Barker was amazed at the change she saw in daughter over the three short days. She was more self-assured and began to open up more about her dad’s death.
“Camp Erin was wonderful for her,” Barker said. “I took a little girl in there, and out came a confident young woman.”
Posted on Jun 8, 2011 in