Campers return to camp as buddies


MARIA STEIN — “I look back at what I gained and realized how much I valued my buddy at Camp BEARable. This is a primary reason I wanted to be a buddy for someone else,” explained 21-year-old Hillary Marker of Greenville when she speaks about her experience as a camp buddy for youth attending State of the Heart Hospice’s annual Camp BEARable.

Hillary and her 17 year old sister, Rachel, both attended Camp BEARable after losing their grandfathers within two years. The camp is for youth who have lost a loved one and need helping dealing with their grief and feelings of loss.

“I loved everything about camp, and the buddies there made the biggest difference for me,” Hillary added.

State of the Heart will hold the non-profit agency’s 15th Camp BEARable July 17-19 at the Spiritual Center at Maria Stein. The camp is free and is open to any child who is grieving the loss of a loved one, and there need be no association with hospice.

Both Hillary and Rachel attended camp as campers for three years. Each sister explained that it was good to attend camp and find that there were others who had the same feelings about grief and loss.

“I got a lot from the information we got about coping with our grief,” said Rachel.

Hillary added, “Attending camp and talking with others helped me understand death better. Listening to others and sharing helped me so much.”

More than 600 young people, ages six to 15, have attended camp over the last 14 years. The weekend camp is a combination of games, music and serious dialogue about grief and loss. Each child is paired with a specially trained buddy who spends considerable time with the youth at camp. The buddies are volunteers who go through an orientation prior to camp. State of the Heart Hospice provides care to patients and families in eastern Indiana and western Ohio who are confronting a life limiting illness.

Abigail May, 20, of Fort Recovery is another former camper who is returning to help as a camp buddy. She began attending camp at the age of six following the sudden death of her father at age 33.

“It was the buddies at camp that I was so impressed with. I look at my volunteering to be a buddy as a way of ‘paying it forward’ and helping other kids,” she said.

Hospice programs nationally hold such camps for young people. Hospice bereavement specialists believe that having open dialogue about grief and loss and finding help at camp helps prevent problems in school, and possible drug and alcohol abuse. The common comment from youth who attend the camp is that they feel safe with the adults there helping them, find comfort with their buddies, and for the first time, feel as if they are in a “safe” place where they can express themselves about their grief and loss.

Ashlee Carder, a board certified music therapist and Bereavement Support specialist for State of the Heart, is the camp director. Last year, she attended camp as a volunteer and served as a buddy to a camper.

“I saw firsthand how valuable the buddy is at camp,” she said. “The youth need someone they can turn to for questions and to talk openly with. Being a camp buddy gave me a lot of insight into what the kids are going through and how important it is for them to open up and talk freely about their feelings.”

At the conclusion of camp on Sunday afternoon, the campers put special messages in balloons that are launched simultaneously into the air.

“This was very hard emotionally, but very rewarding,” commented Hillary.

Rachel said, “I find being a buddy to be so fulfilling. It is great to know you have helped a kid get through a difficult period in their life. As a buddy, you are letting your camper know that ‘I am here with you’.”

Each of the three camp buddies say they feel a sense of “relief” at the conclusion of camp, and experience a rewarding feeling that they have helped an individual work through their grief.

Carder said there is always a need for volunteers to help with camp. Each buddy undergoes a state and federal background check which is paid for by State of the Heart Hospice. The deadline to sign up to be a camp buddy is this coming Wednesday.

Youth attending camp must register, and registration is now underway. The deadline for registration is July 7. An application is available on the agency’s web site:

“You can download the application and mail it in or drop it off at one of the agencies offices which are in Greenville, Coldwater and Portland,” said organizers. “If you have questions about volunteering or about registering for camp, call Carder at 1-800-417-7535, or email her at [email protected].”

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