Camp Hope offers healing for children dealing with loss

FRANKENMUTH (WJRT) - (08/14/19) - Losing a loved one is never easy. So imagine how difficult it can be for children and teens who may have never felt those emotions before.

With that in mind, Wellspring Lutheran Services is once again hosting a camp designed to help them heal.

"We swim and we do smores and we canoe and kayak and all those things," said Jane Olivier, a social worker and bereavement coordinator at Wellspring Lutheran Services.

The campers ages 6 to 17 look forward to making new memories but have some tough emotions to work through.

"My papa died and that's what brought me to camp," said Dominick Axsom. His papa passed away in May.

He is one of 40 kids who gathered at Wellspring Lutheran Services in Frankenmuth headed for the camp in Lapeer County. They're joined by social workers, nurses and others who specialize in grieving.

Every activity over the three days and two nights is carefully planned.

"We know them to be grief work activity, the kids think they're doing crafts or playing a game, but it's all very purposeful in how they play and how they do those things," Olivier said.

Maureen Tippen, a clinical associate professor in the University of Michigan-Flint's School of Nursing, brings a team of students. They will take their experience at camp into their careers.

"They already have the experience, they feel comfortable in talking about death. You can't learn that in a classroom, you have to practice," Tippen said.

After 15 years of Camp Hope, they're celebrating a "first" this time around.

"I've had a lot of people in my life help me, so I kinda want to do that for someone," said Anthony Strong, who is a counselor this year.

He lost his mother to cancer before coming to the camp as a child. Olivier said Strong is the first former camper to return as a counselor.

Strong still has something he made at camp all those years ago.

"It's a pillow with my mom's face on it, and we get to decorate it, so I don't know, that's just something that stuck with me that I kept," he said.

Axsom is hopeful he'll be able to honor is papa in a similar way.

"He always been like really close to me and I've always like talked to him about everything. But now that he's gone I hope this camp can help me with figuring out somebody else to talk to," he said.

The camp is free to families because of community donations.

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