Kids gain hope dealing with loss

Courtesy Today's Sunbeam
Sunday, July 27, 2003

WOODSTOWN -- Thirty-three children from all over the county and beyond gathered a Marlton Park on Saturday to share a common experience.

Each had suffered a loss of some kind either death or divorce. Each was there get help to in the healing process. They took part in a day camp experience started by The Memorial Hospital of Salem County six years ago called Camp Healing Heart.

The kids are not here for counseling." said Hospice Chaplain Walt Kellen. "They are here to get help with their grief and to find out that they are not alone."

Kellen started the day with a story about death and rebirth that told about butterflies. "We start off with the story about dying, but after that we just have a day of fun. The children know they can talk about their loss if they want to but they don't have to."

Some of the "fun" helps children express their feeling and share memories. Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Salem County volunteers helped them make picture frames. Hospital volunteers showed them how they could plant seeds in a pot that would "come alive" into beautiful flowers. Campers also made memory jars with personalized clay lids to hold good memories.

Sheriff's Department Deputy Rob Hans made a game of testing the children's knowledge of what to do if there was an emergency or if they were lost or confronted by a stranger. A short time later Haas was upstaged by a pair of very impressive dogs. Law Enforcement Officers Bill Robinson from the Salem City Police Department and Bill Robinson from Lower Alloways Creek and their canine partners demonstrated how the dogs are used to find explosives, drugs and assist in apprehending of, as the kids put it "the bad guys." The campers agreed they felt safer with the dogs on duty.

There were lessons to be learned but a lot of the day was just plain fun. Some say that laughter is the best medicine. If that is so there was a lot of medicine happening at Camp Healing Heart. Volunteers from St. John's Episcopal Church provided face painting, clowns, balloons and music. The Woodstown High School FFA turned out with a petting zoo that had the addition of some reptile friends from Bob and Debbie Callahan's Fish & Stuff Pet Store. Everyone was had a great time. The medicine of laughter was everywhere.

The camp came out of a need identified by the hospital's Hospice staff and has continued to have hospital support for all of its six years, but the staff is the first to say that the program would not be possible without the volunteers. Kellen went so far as to say that the camp would not have happened if it were not for the hard work put in by volunteer camp coordinator Betty Hyson.

Hyson, who has been a camp volunteer since the beginning gave credit to all the volunteers, sponsors and hospital staff that made the camp possible.

"It was started by Kathy Bohren-Morris who was the hospital bereavement coordinator and continues under the direction of Christie O'Connell, director of the hospitals home health and hospice services," Hyson said. "Every year we get great volunteers."

Coordinators match the children up with volunteer "buddies" to help insure all the children have an opportunity to participate. At the end of the day campers and buddies all got to release a butterfly.

"Butterflies are our camp symbol." said Hyson. "They are the symbol of rebirth and regeneration -- the spirit of life."

At the end of the day, tired happy campers went home feeling loved and comforted, full of hope that indeed life and happiness goes on.

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