Camp Star helps young people grieve with loss

Losing a loved one can be hard on anyone.

There a camp at Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay that aims to help Upper Peninsula kids cope with the loss of a loved one.

Camp Star is only in its second year, but has already made an impact on kids who have lost a loved one.  The camp is put on by the Upper Peninsula Bereavement Network, and is open to kids 8-17.

“(Camp Star) is a opportunity for them to come and put a little language around  the experience they’ve been through, so we find that in the Upper Peninsula , so often kids feel so alone that they’re the only person in their class that has lost a loved one of significance, so they come here, and they realize there’s other people in their age who are also experiencing this,” Director of Camp Star Dr. Larry Skendzel said.

Each kid is paired up with a buddy–someone who has gone through a similar experience as them.

“There are a lot of similar experiences people through through ,” an arts activities aide at Camp Star Zakary Green said.  “Now there’s individual stories that are always different, but these common pieces are things we can bring together  so these kids, these campers, don’t feel all alone.”

“I know a lot of them are younger, and they don’t really have someone to vent to because they’re afraid of hurting their parents’ feelings, or hurting their sibling’s feelings,” Skendzel said.  “Up here, there’s no biased, we just here to listen.”

Campers participate in fun activities like relay races, but also participate in activities to help them remember and honor the loved ones they’ve lost.

“We get memory journals,” Camp Star volunteer Ellie Process said.  She came to Camp Star last year after her father passed away. “Mine was for my dad, and (the journals) have a bunch of questions in it, and you can take it home and work on it.  I haven’t even finished mine and it’s been a year.”

“So it really helps if I’m feeling sad, or even if I’m bored, I can work on it and helps me think of my dad more  and helps me to remember him.”

“Going through an experience of loss, if you’re not able to reach out and ask some help once in awhile, we want to model that for them,” Skendzel said.  “We intersperse thoughtful activities where they may be doing some thinking about memories and finding ways to honor the person that’s died.”

Since the kids at Camp Star have all gone through a similar situation, attending the camp helps them form friendships and understand they’re not alone.

“We just talked about our loved ones, each other’s loved ones, about helping each other, about saying ‘Oh you can all me if you’re ever feeling that way’, and we’ve only known each other for day,” Process said.  “So (the camp) really does bond you in a special way, when you both know wow, we went through pretty much the same thing.”

“I think the biggest surprise for everyone that comes to Camp Star is they think ‘Oh, this must be a very drab and sad affair, indeed, to talk about the loss of someone significant to us’, but it turns out this is ninety percent joy and honoring (loved ones),” Skendzel said.

For more on Camp Star, you can visit their website.