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Camp Dogwood helps children in coping with grief

Tue, May 28, 2019

Camp Dogwood helps children in coping with grief

This summer will be a special one for Maggie Darden Brown and her children, Lindley 9, and Darden, 6.

Maggie, a local school counselor, will be volunteering for the second year as a group leader at Camp Dogwood, a free overnight weekend grief camp for children sponsored by WellStar West Georgia Hospice.

Camp Dogwood will be held this year from Friday to Sunday, June 7-9, at Pineland’s Camp Pioneer on Young’s Mill Road in LaGrange. It is open to children who have completed kindergarten through seventh grade from Troup, Coweta, Heard, Harris and Meriwether counties who have experienced the loss of a loved one.

This year the camp will have a new dimension for Maggie, as her own two children will be attending as campers. Maggie’s children are dealing with three significant losses in the last year: their grandfather Danny Brown, uncle Ken Bartlett, and great aunt Amy Estelle.

Now in its 23rd year of serving the children of Troup County and beyond, Camp Dogwood is uniquely balanced with fun activities—such as art, swimming and fishing—along with an environment of loving support that empowers children to process and embrace their grief and progress towards healing, Brown said. They also learn to cope with feelings that can seem overwhelming to them.

“As a mental health professional, I regularly help parents understand how children grieve and how to help them grieve well,” she said. “I believe so strongly in the power of the group grief experience and in using the age-appropriate interventions that Camp Dogwood provides, such as expressive art, drumming, games and free play. I’m confident that the weekend will help Lindley and Darden move forward as they continue to process their own grief.”

In her role as a school counselor, Brown refers families to Camp Dogwood and is often questioned about how a camp about death and grief could be fun for kids.

“I usually answer by explaining that kids grieve in spurts, meaning they can be crying one minute and laughing and playing the next,” she said. “Camp Dogwood understands the unique ways children grieve and gives them the opportunity for serious learning and serious fun.”

Since memories can be healing and comforting, the camp also gives children opportunities to remember their loved one in special ways and to celebrate the good memories they have of that person.

“We see that in many instances, these children have not only lost someone they love very much, but the death has also created additional losses as well,” said Tammy Forbus, West Georgia Hospice’s coordinator of volunteer services and community outreach. “Their family may be forced to move to a different neighborhood or city, sometimes a different school zone, losing friends, favorite teachers, and their normal way of life along the way. It can be truly devastating on so many levels.

“Each year, we see the kids evolve during camp weekend in a positive way. They quickly see upon arrival at Camp Dogwood that they are not alone; all 60 children there have suffered a loss. The campers bond immediately and have so much fun together that they often want to come back the next year.”

About 75 volunteers donate their time at Camp Dogwood each summer to make sure the children are well cared for and have a great time.

“We’d like to thank our school counselors who volunteer with us each year because their expertise is such a huge asset to our camp,” Forbus said. “Thank you to all of our big-hearted volunteers who serve so faithfully with us year after year, including others who cook and serve food and who help with activities. Our amazing volunteers and staff put so much energy and love into making sure each camper learns important life strategies and has a blast during the weekend.”

Forbus said West Georgia Hospice team members also are thankful to the individuals and local businesses that donate funds to help make camp free to all children and their families.

“We are privileged and grateful that so many individuals and businesses partner with West Georgia Hospice in this service,” she said. “The benefits of Camp Dogwood will last a lifetime.”

To apply for a child to attend Camp Dogwood, to join the volunteer team, or to learn more, call West Georgia Hospice at (706) 845-3905 or visit westgeorgiahospice.org/camp-dogwood.