OAKLAND – Children grieve the loss of a loved one in many different ways and one summer camp is bringing those children together.
“For some of them they may feel like they have to protect other members of their family from their grief or from their sadness,” said Gayle Smotherman, the clinician at Manitou Experience Camp for Boys.
“Or they may even feel guilt from being happy and joyful and wanting to have a more positive experience in their life despite their loss,” she said.
Experience camps are free, one week camps for boys and girls who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or caregiver. The goal is to have the campers become more comfortable with their feelings.
Smotherman said many campers expect the week to be sad but it’s much more than that.
“We try to create a space that is safe for kids to grieve in a way that they want to grieve but overall it’s fun,” Smotherman said.
It’s a place where kids can laugh, cry and play while also remembering the person who died.
“For them to come here and be surrounded by people that are full of positivity, full of optimism it kind of helps them to see, like, I have gone through this really hard thing but it’s still okay to be happy,” Smotherman said.
“It’s still okay to make new fun memories without the person who died,” she said.
Campers get the traditional camp experience with activities such as sports, games and swimming.
Through activities and sharing circles campers also learn coping skills to take with them outside of camp and learn they’re not alone.
“Everyday is like, I’m crying but I’m also laughing just as much. For every laugh I cry, for every cry I laugh,” said Abraham Torres, a volunteer counselor.
The Associate Director, Lucas Johnston, said at the end of the day they’re kids who want to have fun.
He said Experience Camp is a week that campers consider to be the best week of the summer.
“The growth and transition you see from the beginning of the week through the end and just the incredible impact that it can have with being able to share the experience,” said Johnston.