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Camp helps children cope with grief
Noah Doran smiles after reading a portion of his journal to visitors at Camp Braveheart Friday afternoon.

Life makes no promises.

This week, 28 elementary school students learned that as they attended Camp Braveheart, a grief camp for children hosted at Walters Farm in Lula.

The group, all who have recently lost family members, explored their feelings and memories through art therapy.

“The kids are awesome, and the courage they bring is phenomenal,” art therapist Jenny Welty-Green told parents during a closing ceremony Friday. “I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be. The art moves their energy and feelings when it’s too hard to talk.”

The students created puppets, journals and memory boxes in honor of their loved ones. Welty-Green pinned hearts on their shirts, and some read from their journals as parents dabbed tears. The children were instructed to write “I believe” statements about their faith, family members and values to help them when sad.

“I miss my papa,” Kolin Mitchell, 6, said. “Sometimes my mom cries, but that’s OK.”

The students recounted memories and said they wished they had said “I love you” more, grabbed one last hug or could make life longer or happier.

“These students are beautiful and write from the heart,” said Letty Beatty, a paraprofessional at Stephens County Schools. “They didn’t want camp to end, and there were no complaints for as hot as it’s been. At school, you have to pull teeth to get students to write and open up, and here they just sat down and started writing.”

Volunteers at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center Hospice started the camp in 1992 and fund it each year through private donations.

Social workers play games and create art with the students as a form of grief support.

Spots are still available for the middle school and high school session of camp held July 12-16, and the hospice is looking for more volunteers to be “buddies” who give emotional support, help with food preparation and even guide art projects.

For “buddy” Alexis Howell, a rising freshman at North Hall High School, volunteering is leading her down a potential career path.

“Hospice workers came to my school for career day, and I asked if I could help because I’ve always been interested in the field,” she said. “My dad passed away two years ago, and I was able to help the kids express their feelings and realize that death is OK. Two boys in my group were really shy but started breaking out and talking.”

At the end of Friday’s closing ceremony, students and parents released balloons with messages tied on the ends. A few shouted “I love you!” as the balloons floated away.

“I had a hard time when my father died, and my children asked so many questions. I didn’t know how to address them because I didn’t go through this at their age,” said Kelly Mitchell, mother of Kaleb, 7, and Kolin, both who attended the camp. “They didn’t like to see me cry, and this helped them to open up and be around kids under the same circumstances.”