Children learn to cope with life’s hard knocks
By Joe Starkey
Camp CourageBy Joe Starkey“I love my mommy and she’s gone and I’m so lost.” The quietly crying young voice from the middle of the chapel expressed the collective soul of the campers and counselors of Camp Courage. The Brave Heart Ceremony conducted the evening of the 3rd day of Camp Courage gives each camper the opportunity to remember and honor the one they lost. It’s a time of grief but also a time to open up and acknowledge with the loss.Founded by Mrs. Jane Seamster in 2000, Camp Courage works with children who have lost loved ones thru death, divorce or separation. The campers range in age from those who have completed kindergarten to seniors in High School. The camp provides a setting for the children to learn tools to deal with their loss by creating ties in expressing their feelings to normal camp activities. A scene familiar to all who ever attended a camp is children setting around a table after supper playing cards. The difference in this game between Marquise Williams, Mike Michell and Tyler Randall is that when the camper draws a card, they talk about the subject designated by the card – “what would you tell the one you lost if they walked thru the door right now? Your favorite color or food?, the best thing about camp? What courage means to me”The camp is an outgrowth of the Rainbow Program and the Hendricks Outreach Program. Mrs. Seamster, director of the camp and Mrs. Jennifer Forrest, bereavement counselor for Hendricks, Co-director talked about the evolution of the camp and the activities. The camp started in 2000 with 50 campers and is now serving 110. All of the counselors are volunteers except for the directors who draw their normal 8 hour a day pay for working 24 hours a day during the camp. The camp is intense enough for the 3 and ½ days that they get past the standard defensive responses to really deal with the loss. The children come hurting and leave opened up with coping skills. The camp motto is “I did not cause it. I can not fix it. But I can cope with it.”The 45-50 volunteer counselors give up time from their families and vacation time to serve. The goal of the camp is to have one counselor to every two kids. A conservative estimate of the cost of the camp and food is over $20,000.00. The Children’s Miracle Network, the Kiwanis of Midwest Texas and individual donors from Abilene, Lubbock, Austin, Arlington and most of the Big Country allow the children to come from all over the Big Country and as far away as Austin to come to this camp FREE.Kaci Flores and Brittony Walker of Abilene, and Hallie Roach of Albany gave their impressions of the camp and posed for a picture with one of their new friends. They all loved the camp and the best activity was swimming and the slip and slide. The camp was very emotional but the councilors and activities helped talk about where they hurt and how to deal with it. Just before being called to go to the Brave Heart ceremony, they added that the food was good. There was a buffet with fruit and veggies that was “very cool.”Ms. Stephani Moreland came to Camp Courage after her grandmother died in April, 2003 to work as a counselor and has been back to work every year since. She stated that the best part of the camp is that the children learn that others care and skills to cope with loss.During the Brave Heart Ceremony, the campers go up by groups to light and place a candle they decorated in memory of the lost one on a small alter and then go over to place a photograph or other memory of the lost one on a large broken heart. Several of the counselors came up to tell of their loss. Mrs. Kathy Graham and daughter, Amanda Lewis came forward to tell of life with and divorce and loss of an alcoholic husband and father and the difference in the loss to each. Another lady told of the loss of her 18 year old son after he left for college and the true friend that would go to a favorite restaurant and bring lunch to share with her when she couldn’t bear to leave the house. Asked to help with Camp Courage three years ago, she thinks the children have done more for her that she did for them. The ceremony concludes with the two parts of the heart being place back together. “This shows the heart can heal. But it will never been the same and the lost one will be forever in our hearts.”
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