Keystone Science School’s Legacy Camp helps kids dealing with loss to ‘just feel normal’
This weekend will be like many others at the Keystone Science School campus. A group of kids is coming together to do team-building activities, to enjoy being outside, to laugh, sing and be silly.
What’s different is that this weekend is Legacy Camp, which was created by the school in 2011 to give children who have lost an immediate family member the chance to be with others who have experienced similar situations and to create a sense of community with one another. It gives children a safe place to express themselves and a chance to grieve, camp organizers said.
“This is one of the best and one of the most rewarding programs we’ve ever done,” said Seth Oglesby, camps and community programs director.
Nationally, 1.9 million kids, or 2 percent of all American children, lose one or both parents by the time they turn 18, according to the Social Security Administration. Keystone camp organizers estimate that in Summit County, at least 32 children have lost an immediate family member in the past two years.
Since it began, Legacy Camp has served 27 of those 32 kids. This year, the Legacy Camp includes 21 children, age 6 to 16. The community they formed with others dealing with loss has supported them and helped them as they grieve and attempt to rebuild normalcy in their lives, Oglesby said.
In order to provide the most supportive, enriching experience possible, Keystone partners with local child therapy professionals — psychologists, counselors and social workers who are passionate about the well-being of campers.
“Since the beginning we’ve looked for people who were passionate and wanted to give back to the camp,” Oglesby said.
The camp volunteers include not only professionals, but also Keystone summer camp counselors.
“I look a lot to my summer camp counselors to be high energy and fun and connect with kids on another level,” he said. “It’s not a cry camp. It’s a camp to have fun and to laugh. I think we do a very good job of balancing therapy with having fun and being silly.”
Stacey Smith, a local professional counselor, has been involved in the camp since its inception.
“It gives them a place to feel safe and go through the grieving process,” she said.
When a child, or anyone, experiences a death in the family, you can’t put a time line on it.
“Initially, when someone passes in a family, the community wraps around them. But three months later they can feel isolated and alone,” Smith said. “We try to create that sense of community to let them know we are still here, whether it’s one year later or 10 years later.”
Camp organizers said the Legacy Camp is unique because it includes events throughout the year for children and their families, free of cost, helping kids move forward.
“If we have a traumatizing event in our life, and don’t process it, its going to affect us the rest of our lives,” Smith said.
These children are young, and someday they are going to have big events like getting married and having children. If they never had the chance to process their loss, these events can be emotional triggers down the road. But if they have been able to go through it, they can be sad without causing emotional turmoil, she said.
The biggest component of the program is to just let kids be kids, and know that they’re not alone.
“They are with a bunch of other people who have gone through similar situations, or at least experienced similar emotions. Our real goal of the kids being there is to just feel normal.”
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