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Camp helps kids grieve

by MAUREEN DOLAN
Staff Writer | June 26, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - Their stories are all different, but they share a common thread.

The 60 children who will attend Camp Chmepa next month at Lutherhaven, are all grieving the death of someone close.

"We provide a safe place for them to reveal some of the things they're struggling with," said Teri Schmehl, an RN who has worked at Hospice of North Idaho for nearly a decade.

This year's three-day camp, open to 7- to 15-year-olds, takes place from July 23-25. This is the third year hosting of Camp Chmepa has been shared by Hospice of Spokane and Hospice of North Idaho.

Schmehl said while the collaboration has worked well for the past few years, if the need is great enough, the North Idaho hospice agency will consider starting its own camp. There are now 20 spaces available for kids from Idaho, with 16 already filled.

"Every year, we keep having more kids," Schmehl said.

She thinks people may not realize how much today's children are affected by loss, especially since many are being raised by grandparents and family members other than their parents.

"The camp kind of normalizes the grief response for them," Schmehl said. "They realize they're not alone and maybe some of the feelings they've had aren't unusual."

Once 20 Idaho campers are confirmed for the July camp, a waiting list will be started. Schmehl said each year, a few kids accepted into the camp are unable to attend, so getting on the waiting list is a good idea for anyone interested.

It will also help Hospice of North Idaho to better assess the need for more camper spaces and funding for the camp, which is provided to the children at no cost.

"We really have a desire to meet the community's needs, and children struggling with grief and loss are part of that community," Schmehl said. "It's just an expensive venture."

While the issues the kids confront at camp are often sad and serious, it's not a somber, humorless experience.

"The kids are so surprised that at a camp where everyone has lost someone, there is a lot of singing and people are having fun," Schmehl said.

A highlight of the camp experience is a "reflection ceremony" in which the children light candles in memory of their loved ones.

"It's all out in the wilderness setting," Schmehl said. "That really makes it special for them."

Information: 772-7994

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