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Campers learn how to handle loss of loved ones at Camp Braveheart
Camper Rayna Rodgers, 10, hugs art therapist Jenny Welty-Green on Friday at Camp Braveheart’s closing ceremonies. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Campers at Camp Braveheart in Gainesville celebrated with plenty of cake and soda on Friday as they finished their week.

This celebration was part of the closing ceremony held at the Lakehouse at Gainesville First Presbyterian Church, site of the camp.

Camp Braveheart, founded in 1996 by the Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center, is a weeklong summer camp designed to help children who have experienced a significant loss in their family.

Children gathered in a circle along with family members and staff who attended to share their “I believe” statements.

Some statements were silly and fun, others somber as children talked about believing in heaven and seeing the people they lost again one day.

Each camper also decorated a special box in memory of parents, siblings or grandparents who had passed away. The campers displayed them Friday for their family members to see and take home to remind them of what they learned about dealing with grief.

Over the years, lives of many children have been affected by the grief counseling and fellowship provided at Camp Braveheart.

“We have been doing it for many years,” said Karla Owens, a counselor with Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center who helps operate the camp. “We’ve served over 350 kids.”

The camp is free of charge. Volunteer camp counselors are joined by four licensed social workers and an art therapist to help the grieving campers.

Camp Braveheart was held for many years at the Walters Barn in Lula, but it recently perished in a fire.

“The First Presbyterian Church was very generous in letting us come,” Owens said.

“Usually we have two camps. This year, with the fire, we were not able to make our middle school camp happen.”

She also said that once the barn is rebuilt, the camp may move back into it next summer to provide more space for both camps.

One of the many lives touched at the camp, 16-year-old Robert Wooten, is a camper turned volunteer for the first time this year. His mother works for Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center. She decided to try camp after he lost his grandfather two years ago to cancer, he said.

“I wasn’t really the same, so my mom was trying to get me to camps,” Wooten said. “I went to a camp before this one, and I didn’t like it. I wanted to leave the first day.”

He said that the week after that he came to Camp Braveheart, and the atmosphere was completely different.

“It was a different experience than most camps I’ve been to,” Wooten said.

Although the fun activities planned for the campers helped take his mind off of his loss, the group sessions were what really benefited him, he said.

“I just went into detail about it and got a lot of things off my chest that I couldn’t tell to other people because I didn’t know if they were interested or wanted to listen to me,” Wooten said.

“The people around me (at Camp Braveheart) wanted to listen. They wanted to hear my story.”

Wooten said he is volunteering this year so he can help campers the way he was helped before.

Some campers traveled farther than others to receive the counseling and friendship they needed. Marianna Dollyhigh’s two children were adopted from Africa as orphans. They both experienced the loss of both of their parents last year.

She says the biggest impact made was the fellowship provided at Camp Braveheart.

Dollyhigh said it was most beneficial for her two children to know that there were other kids that have gone through what they did.Owens said the camp is growing and is already calling for volunteers for camp next year.

Owens said the camp is growing and is already calling for volunteers for camp next year.

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