The Camp Community's Response to September 11: What We Did, Why We Did It, and What It Means
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Several years ago, we were shocked to discover that we had more than twenty children enrolled at day camp who had lost a parent within the past year. The children ranged in age from three to thirteen. We thought, wouldn't it be remarkable if these children could get to know others in their situation, to know that they were not alone in dealing with their grief? Wouldn't this be the ultimate building of a community where stories are shared?
At around the same time, Hospice Care Network of Long Island was seeking a site for its annual one-day bereavement program. They found a home at Coleman Country Day Camp, and Camp Hidden Heart was born. Year after year, volunteers join with grief counselors to provide a therapeutic, caring, and educational day where children participate in activities, crafts projects, and group discussions.
It was only natural, then, that we would seek to partner with our friends at Hospice Care soon after September 11 rocked our world on Long Island. While we also participated in the American Camping Association New York Section's Heal the Children project, we felt compelled to reach out even further into our community, which was filled with traders and brokers at the World Trade Centers, firefighters, and police officers.
Some of the so-called 9-11 children already were campers of ours; others came to us after we sent word into the community that we wanted to provide camperships. These campers had the opportunity to participate in bereavement groups in a pull-out program right at camp - very similar to the one already established for children who had recently lost a parent. It was their elective activity, in a sense.
Additionally, Hospice Care conducted a one-day grief camp - A Day of Hope and Renewal - this past fall specifically for families who were impacted by the terror attacks. While we had hoped to have a one-week program at the conclusion of our camp season, we found that many large sponsoring groups in our area had done the outreach. Still, we felt certain that by partnering with our human resource neighbors, we could offer a very special and very meaningful support system. We were able to capitalize on the best of what camp has to offer - creating a bond of caring, compassion, and connection.
While focusing on fun, campers also participated in specially designed games to promote healing and recovering. Topics of related discussions included responsibility and anger - talking about "who is responsible for all this" and learning that it's okay to feel angry. "Anger," explained Eileen Moran, bereavement social worker, "doesn't get us into trouble, but our actions do!" Closing ceremonies, which included family members, focused on memories and coping skills, represented by the "North Star." The closure that this program provided for families also afforded closure for us, as well as the many camp staff who volunteered to help.
Marla Coleman, American Camping Association National President and owner/director, Coleman Country Day Camp
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Originally published in the 2003 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.