When 19 children hiked to the top of Mount Cupid on Loveland Pass last weekend, it wasn't just a casual outing. Each hiker dedicated his or her ascent to a loved one, pushing themselves to make the summit in their honor.
The hikers were all participants in the Keystone Science School's Legacy Camp, a program created to help children dealing with the loss of an immediate family member. The camp lasts for three days - Friday through Sunday - and aims to create a safe, comfortable place where the children can be themselves.
Legacy Camp, a part of the Keystone Science School, was started last year when the need for it was brought to the attention of the Keystone Center staff. According to the Legacy Camp website, at least 32 children in Summit County have lost an immediate family member within the past two years.
"We don't want it to be a cry camp," said Joel Egbert, camp director at science school. "The idea is to give them strength through their legacy, and telling their story and being proud of the pieces of their life and their family that make them who they are."
The camp accepts children as young as five up to age 17. It is staffed completely by volunteers, and offers an extraordinary one-to-one ratio of campers to adults. Aside from the usual camp activities, children have constant opportunity for discussion, either one-on-one with a counselor, in small groups or with the whole camp. Topics of the discussion aren't necessarily focused on loss or grief, however, but whatever the campers feel like talking about.
"We don't push discussion about loss, but we're here to support them if it does," said clinical director Stacey Smith, who is a licensed professional counselor. "Kids are allowed to talk about whatever they want to talk about - what happens during the day, or the loss they experienced, or another event that's occurred in their life."
The purpose of the discussions and the camp is to give the kids a support system, and a method of dealing with their loss in whatever way works best for them.
"The most beneficial thing for these kids and families is knowing that they're not alone, that there are people in the community who know what they're going through and are there to support them however they want them to support, and to be there," Smith said.
The success of the camp cannot be denied, and has insured that it will continue throughout the year, with an event each planned for winter, spring, summer and onward. About half of the campers last weekend were returning, which the Keystone Science School encourages.
"We encourage that," Egbert said. "Over time, the more they get comfortable with our staff, the more they open up. ... About half of them are returning. We're hoping that the culture wears off on other kids and makes them feel comfortable."
Both campers and volunteers have given positive feedback about the camp.
"All of the staff members are volunteering their time," said Smith. "It's the coolest thing. I've had problem finding therapeutic staff members. I think that that's even more powerful about it."