Davis Elliott, 10, a fourth-grader at Julian Newman Elementary School, and his brother Jack, 6, a kindergartner, couldn’t be more excited about attending the upcoming Camp Hope, a free one-day bereavement camp for children and teens ages 5-15 sponsored by Hospice of Limestone County.
Camp Hope will take place from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 5, at Camp Helen Baptist Campgrounds in the Capshaw Community.
The boys attended Camp Hope last year and look forward to going back.
“I liked swimming,” Davis said.
“My favorite part was sliding down the big waterslide and throwing water balloons,” said Jack. “It was fun.”
Jack also enjoyed the balloon release and celebration service at the end of the day. The balloon contained a personal message to his great-grandfather, who he called “Ha.”
Davis and Jack, the sons of Leigh Ellen and Jamey Elliott, lost their great-grandfather, Hollis Kennemer, 87, in September 2010.
“He was still very active so they spent a lot of time with him,” their mother said, adding his death affected both children. “Davis had a lot of anxiety and trouble sleeping. He was nervous a lot.”
She said the hardest part of helping her children cope with death was trying to reassure them, especially Davis, that it wasn’t going to happen to everybody right then. “He got it in his mind that it was,” she said.
“Jack understood better than I thought he would,” she said. “After Camp Hope, on two or three occasions, he wrote a message to Hollis, tied it to the end of a balloon and sent it to him in heaven.”
When Leigh Ellen heard about Camp Hope she thought it was something that might be good for her children. “Hospice reached out to us and they had friends who had been before,” she said.
Camp Coordinator Dana Pressnell said although death affects children differently and every situation is different, Camp Hope helps them realize they are not the only ones dealing with loss. “We all want to feel normal,” she said. “Camp helps them realize lots of other people are going through it, too.”
Pressnell added that at Camp Hope the purpose is not to dig up grief issues. “Some are at a good place and they have already overcome all that,” she said. “They have had a bump in the road and we are trying to provide a day of fun. For others, whose stories are a little different, we are trying to help them along in their process.”
Davis and Jack’s mom said she believes Camp Hope made a difference in her children’s lives.
“They seemed much better,” Leigh Ellen said. “They were celebrating the fun times and looked at his death in a more positive way. I would recommend Camp Hope to other parents.”
This year, Jack looks forward to the fun activities such as fishing and swimming, as well as volleyball and a scavenger hunt, parachute play, arts and crafts and a camp favorite — the waterslide. The day’s activities also incorporate ways to help children express their feelings, share with others with similar losses and remember loved ones.
The camp will include pet therapy and Shriners clowns will visit. The Athens Quilters Guild will also provide “Feelings Pillows” for campers.
Davis said, this year, he looks forward to having a good camp buddy. Last year his camp buddy was volunteer Emily Haney Sandlin. “I really like Emily,” he said, adding they are still friends.
Camp buddies are paired with campers and spend the day with them while at Camp Hope. Athens High School sophomore Baylee Carroll, 16, the daughter of Sabrina and Rod Carroll, plans to be a camp buddy this year.
Baylee attended Camp Hope after her grandmother, Sue Schrimsher Scott, passed away when Baylee was 11.
“I was really close to my grandmother,” she said. “I would spend almost every weekend with her.”
Camp Hope, which Baylee attended the day of her grandmother’s birthday, really helped me, she said, adding before the camp she remembers being sad and down.
“I didn’t want to do much in general,” she said. “I wanted to be sad.”
Camp Hope changed those feelings.
“I don’t remember it being a sad day,” she said. “I remember it being a day to get my mind off of it, but at the same time it was day in memory of her. It was a nice day.”
Camp Hope helped Baylee realize she could still be sad about the loss, but at the same time enjoy time with others.
“Seeing kids there and knowing they had lost someone too made me realize I’m not alone,” she said.
Baylee said she also loved her camp buddy and that is one reason she wanted to return to Camp Hope as a volunteer. “I love kids,” she said. “I loved my leader. She helped me through a lot.”
Baylee made up her mind she wanted to be one of the kids volunteering to help. “I remember looking up to them,” she said. “I thought they were so cool for helping us.
“I’m really so glad I get to do it this year,” she said. “I’m counting down the days.”
Pressnell said no one likes to deal with death. “Honestly, most campers and volunteers are hesitant about attending,” she said. “However, we make it a positive day full of fun and excitement.”
“Camp Hope doesn’t make you sad about the loss, the goal is to have fun and show you can still have fun while talking about ways to get through emotions without being angry or constantly sad or down all the time,” Baylee said. “They let you know it’s OK to talk to others about death. Everybody has lost somebody.”
Camp Hope is available for any child dealing with death, or loss such as incarceration and divorce. It might have happened this year or a few years ago and they don’t have to have relatives who have been a part of the Hospice programs.
Those interested in attending Camp Hope, should register online at www.athenslimestonehospice.org, ask a school counselor for a registration form, or sign up at the Hospice Office, located at 405 S. Marion St. in Athens.