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Camp helps children of fallen service members cope with grief

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Good Grief Camp is designed to give the kids a positive outlet to deal with their grief. Good Grief Camp is designed to give the kids a positive outlet to deal with their grief.
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -

Thirty children who lost loved ones in the military are enjoying a special summer camp just outside Fayetteville this week.

The camp is called Good Grief Camp because it is designed to give the kids a positive outlet to deal with their grief. It is mostly about fun activities that get the kids interacting with each other -- just like other summer camps.

"[There is] kayaking, canoeing, the water slide. They have go carts," commented Zack Schade, a 16-year-old from Spring Lake who lost his father in war five years ago. "It's a fun way, an entertaining way for us to grieve."

The camp is organized by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors organization, which is based in Washington, D.C. Good Grief camps are organized in regions throughout the country, usually near military bases.

The Fayetteville area camp is being hosted by Camp Dixie off N.C. Highway 87 in Bladen County. Twenty-six of the children come from North Carolina, two are from South Carolina and two are from Virginia.

“Kids first and foremost are kids at summer camp," explained Camp Director Tina Barrett.

That fun allows opportunities for the children to open up to each other. Schade said that social aspect has made a big difference for him. Good Grief Camp helped him more than some traditional counseling.

"I had some serious anger issues. I've been through counselors, family counselors. As soon as I started participating with TAPS, it's just opened up,” he explained. “I see myself as a better person now."

While there certainly is a lot of fun at the camp, there is time set aside specifically for the kids to reflect and talk about their loss.

"We don't choose to grieve, but the ways we deal with it can be far more healthy than others, and the grief camps strive to offer constructive ways to integrate loss into our lives," explained Barrett. "They have a chance to learn adaptive strategies, [for example] creative ways to honor their loss, to talk about their loss through stories, to symbolically engage in rituals whether spontaneously or with large gatherings of others at candle lighting ceremonies."

Angelia Morales has also received a lift from Camp Good Grief.

"For people who feel alone, like they're the only one who knows what they're going through: you're not alone and there are other people like you," Morales said. "

Schade echoed that thought. He agree that having others around who truly understand his situation improved how he dealt with grief.

"You come here, you know everyone is just like you," Schade said. "You know they know how you feel."

Camp Good Grief also teaches coping skills that the kids can take with them when they leave.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

Brandon Herring

Brandon is a North Carolina native and UNC alum who lives in Fayetteville, and covers Cumberland County and the Sandhills. Returning to North Carolina to work as a journalist is a dream come true for Brandon. More>>

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