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Camp Hope supports children dealing with grief, loss

By Kim Walter

Area children dealing with grief and loss, as well as their parents or guardians, are invited to register for Blue Ridge Hospice's eighth annual Camp Hope.

The overnight camp is held for children ages 7 to 16, and will take place Sept. 21-22 at the Northern Virginia 4-H Education and Conference Center in Front Royal.

Over the past several years, more than 350 youths have benefited from the camp, which is held at no charge to participants.

Counselors, who are knowledgeable in assisting children experiencing grief issues, will work with campers on practical skills for managing the effects of loss. Campers will be split up into small groups with youth their age to express their emotions, as well as interact with peers going through similar experiences.

Crafts, music therapy, group exercises and games will also be part of the camp activities. Group education and support sessions are planned during the day for parents and guardians.

Lynn Gray, a licensed clinical social worker who has been with Blue Ridge Hospice for the last 12 years, said the idea for such a camp came from community need.

As a grief and loss resource, Blue Ridge Hospice comes in contact with a diverse group of youth who struggle with the loss of a loved one. Gray said she's not aware of any other area organization that offers group support opportunities like Camp Hope.

"You would be amazed by the number of people touched by loss," Gray said. "As an organization, we want to work with the kids and young adults who are struggling with that so they can develop good coping skills and have better tools to deal with loss as they grow up."

Gray said it's interesting to see youth slowly open up about their experiences, and then realize that they aren't alone.

"It's hard to be that kid at school whose mom or brother died," she said. "Our campers at least walk away realizing that they aren't alone, and hopefully their guardians also walk away knowing a little bit more about how to help them through the process."

Campers will have time to talk as much or as little as they need. Gray said some kids enjoy quiet time while working on a craft, while others simply need to talk through their emotions. The music component is an important one of camp, she added.

"Music is a safe way to express whatever it is that's going on inside," she said. "We've got board certified music therapy staff, and they really know how to get the kids engaged."

The camp's primary sponsor is Blue Ridge Hospice's annual 5K Run/Walk held each October. Several area businesses joined this year with Blue Ridge Hospice to sponsor special events to financially support Camp Hope. They include Kimberly's in downtown Winchester and the Alamo Drafthouse. Project Linus is assisting with the donation of blankets to campers.

If anything, Gray said she hopes the weekend will bring a little fun into the campers' routines. She said enough work is done at school, and she doesn't want participants to feel like work is required from them at the camp as well.

"Loss is difficult for so many people, but it's universal," she said. "Kids need to know that tears are OK."

To register, visit www.blueridgehospice.org or call 540-313-9267 for more information. The registration deadline is Aug. 30.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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