Camp Brave Heart helps children deal with grief

WIMBERLEY, Texas (KXAN) — Emily Fisher is one of one hundred campers at Camp Brave Heart in Wimberley this Summer. She swims and hikes and plays games with the other campers on the campgrounds in the peaceful Texas Hill Country. But Brave Heart is not your typical summer camp in one heartbreaking way.

“My dad and then my mom,” Emily says as she points to a photograph. “They passed away in a motorcycle accident.”

Every child at Camp Brave Heart has lost a loved one and is trying to get through the grief.

“It was really hard for me to overcome it, so my sister found Camp Brave Heart which is why I’m here and its really helped me a lot,” Emily said.

This is the 14th summer for the camp, which is put on by Hospice Austin and is free of charge to the families.

“It’s really wonderful to give children the opportunity to meet other children who have had a similar experience because they often have never met somebody who has lost a parent or a sibling or a grandparent,” said camp bereavement supervisor, Maggie Cochran. “Children can come in and out of grief really well, they can talk about their loved one for 5 minutes, 30 minutes and then they’re ready to go play and that’s very normal and actually very healthy for them.”

Camp isn’t all about grief and counseling, but it is available at any time to any child who needs it. The children, ages 6-17, talk about their grief with each other, as well.

“Everyone here is really nice,” Emily said. “A lot of people here have the same story. It’s kind of fun to hear their story and not just tell your story all the time.”

Tino Phillips was a Brave Heart camper when she was 10 years old, about one year after her Dad died. She is in college now and this Summer, Tino and her brother are both Brave Heart counselors.

“At the end of the day you’re emotionally exhausted, physically exhausted, its hot outside, but it’s completely worth it,” said Tino. “I wanted to give back what Hospice Austin gave me 10 years ago.”

Daniel Lanuza is dealing with the deaths of four people in his family– two grandparents and two cousins. Camp Brave Heart is helping him heal and learn an important lesson.

“It’s OK to be sad because family members passed away because they’ll always be in your heart,” Daniel explained. “I know my family members who died will always love me.”

Camp Brave Heart is full every year and is offered for any child in need. Although it is free to the families, Hospice Austin relies on donations to keep it that way. The cost to accommodate each camper for four days is $400.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, there are signs adults should watch for when it comes to children and grief. They include an extended period of depression in which the child loses interest in daily activities and events, the inability to sleep, loss of appetite, and prolonged fear of being alone.

Adults should also watch for a child who acts much younger for an extended period or a child who excessively imitates the dead person. Repeated statements of wanting to join the dead person, along with withdrawal from friends, or a sharp drop in school performance or refusal to attend school, are also warning signs.

If these signs persist, professional help may be needed. A child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professionals can help the child accept the death and assist others in helping the child through the mourning process.

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