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'It's OK to still be a kid' at UWGB's Camp Lloyd

Jun. 25, 2014
 
Purple dye explodes as campers smash water balloons while making tie dye t-shirts during Camp Lloyd at UW-Green Bay on Wednesday. Camp Lloyd is an innovative summer camp to help children cope with the loss of a loved one.
Purple dye explodes as campers smash water balloons while making tie dye t-shirts during Camp Lloyd at UW-Green Bay on Wednesday. Camp Lloyd is an innovative summer camp to help children cope with the loss of a loved one. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
A bin full of ink-filled water balloons while making tie dye t-shirts during Camp Lloyd at UW-Green Bay on Wednesday. Camp Lloyd is an innovative summer camp to help children cope with the loss of a loved one. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media

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It’s a fun summer camp, full of activities and crafts, but it’s one that kids don’t really want to do.

Camp Lloyd, housed at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, is a weeklong day camp for grieving children who have lost a parent, grandparent, sibling or another loved one.

Ten-year-old Owen Johnson of Denmark came to the camp because he lost his dad.

“My dad died July 17, 2012 of cancer,” Owen said. “I thought I was going to be sad the rest of my life but when I came here I wasn’t anymore.”

The camp offers kids support through the grieving process through fun activities, crafts and healing circles led by “big buddies,” students from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay who are trained in child grief counseling, said camp founder Ilene Cupit. The camp is open for children ages 7 to 14.

The kids spent Wednesday morning decorating memory boxes. The boxes were hand-painted by each child and filled with objects that remind them of their lost family member.

Owen said he planned to paint his box blue for a fishing theme — his dad enjoyed fishing at the family’s cabin in northern Wisconsin.

“I plan to put a photo of him and fishing lures inside,” Owen said.

Briana Woelfel’s mother died from pancreatic cancer in April. Brianna, 11, said when she first heard of Camp Lloyd she wasn’t interested in attending.

“I thought there was just going to be a lot crying but then I went to orientation,” she said.

At the camp’s orientation, most kids are illed with the trepidation that a grief camp will be just that — filled with grief, Cupit said. Once the children learn the camp will be full of fun activities, they often change their minds.

“Here they are with a whole group of other kids who get it and that’s what’s the most important,” she said.

From the time the children enter the camp on Monday to when they leave on Friday, counselors see an enormous change in demeanor and attitude, Cupit said.

“We let them know it’s OK to still be a kid,” Cupit said. “Many of them grown up very fast, feel guilty for having a good time, experiencing some of the joys of childhood. We let them that’s okay and that their loved ones would want them to do these things.”

Owen said he’s thankful to have a safe environment to talk about his dad.

“This camp is really fun and it helps you with sharing stories of yourself that can make you sad and let out all your feelings,” Owen said. “It makes me feel happy because at least I know that I’m not the only one.”

E-mail Rachel at rminske@gannett.com or follow her on Twiiter at @rachelfminske.

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