Camp Hope helps children deal with their grief over lost loved ones through a variety of activities like art. Photo provided.
Camp Hope helps children deal with their grief over lost loved ones through a variety of activities like art. Photo provided.
Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be difficult, especially for children who may not understand death.

Ryan’s Place, with the support of a grant from United Way of Kosciusko and Whitley Counties, is bringing Camp Hope to Warsaw for the first time to help children deal with their grief.

In an interview Tuesday, Aileac Deegan, president and CEO of Ryan’s Place, Goshen, said, “Ryan’s Place provides services for children who are grieving the death of a loved one. We were contacted by the United Way of Kosciusko and Whitley Counties – and Darren Bickel is the president there – and he was wondering is there something we could do with the kids this summer who are grieving the death of a loved one. And, that’s our specialty, so I said yes.”

The United Way provided the grant so Ryan’s Place could provide a week-long day camp, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 19-23. Deegan said they’re working on providing the camp for at least 100 children, maybe 125 if the need is there. It will take place at Warsaw Community Church, 1855 S. County Farm Road, one of the partners for Camp Hope Warsaw. The camp is free and open to kids who are going into first through sixth grade, she stated.

The kids should be dressed in clothes appropriate for inside and outside and that won’t be an issue if the clothes get dirty or paint on them. Each child will receive a T-shirt and backpack and will go home with lots of stuff they’ve created at the camp.

“Part of the idea is, so many children have had death in their family during COVID, and they weren’t able to attend funerals or see their loved one before they died, and so that’s been very confusing for a lot of children. For kids it’s hard anyway to identify their grief or process their grief, so this has made it more difficult,” she said. “So our goal with this is to help children understand that their loved one has died because sometimes when they don’t see someone before they die or they don’t know what happened, it can be confusing. They think it’s temporary, they’re just not going to see the person for a while and they’re coming back.”

Camp Hope will help the children process their grief.

There will be different themes every day of the camp, like art, music and wellness. The kids in the camp will have plenty of activities to do.

“We want it to be a fun time for them, too, but being with other kids who have been in a similar situation,” Deegan said.

The camp is not restricted to just kids who have had someone die during the pandemic. “This could have happened before that. So, for some kids, it might be a few years since their loved one died, but they’re still very welcomed to come and participate,” she said.

Warsaw Community Schools is providing transportation for kids in the Warsaw area. Deegan said they’re getting calls from Whitley County now and are trying to figure out how to provide transportation for those children to come to the camp. WCS Food Service is providing lunch to all the campers.

Ryan’s Place will be bringing in a musician, Nicole Williams, to Camp Hope to do drumming with the children. They also will make their own drums to help them process their grief.

Spoonful of Imagination will provide therapeutic art for the children. Fitness instructors Erin Serafino, from Giverny Fitness, and Denise Ritter, from the YMCA, will do a wellness/mindfulness piece with the children.

Registration for Camp Hope Warsaw is through July 10, Deegan said. To register, email Cara Allebach, Camp Hope Warsaw coordinator, at callebach@ryansplace.org or call Ryan’s Place office at 574-535-1000. Registration also is available on the website at https://ryansplace.org/.

Deegan said they’re also looking for volunteers who would be willing to go through training to help the groups of kids. Ryan’s Place has its own qualified facilitators who will lead the groups, but they need help.

“Any people who think they have a heart for kids. They don’t have to have experience with grief, but most people have in some circumstances of their life,” she said.

Everybody who volunteers and is given the training has to go through a background check.

To volunteer, use the same email, phone number or website listed above.

Ryan’s Place has been in operation in Elkhart County for 19 years. Over the last eight years or so, Deegan said they’ve gone into schools in Kosciusko County to provide services directly to children, including Warsaw and Wawasee schools.

“Actually, during COVID, we had more groups in the spring semester in Kosciusko County than anywhere, where it’s usually Elkhart, but we had a lot of kids groups. In the spring semester, I think we had five or six, which was pretty big considering COVID. Normally, there would be a lot more than that, we’d probably do 10 or 12, but (there was) COVID,” Deegan said. “So we go in and do these 10-week groups where we work with the children over that course of 10 weeks to help them come to terms with their grief and help them move their grief journey, if possible.”

Ryan’s Place has its main evening program in Goshen, and Deegan said Kosciusko County families drive up to Goshen for that. It’s for parents and children.

Ryan’s Place is named after Ryan Gleim, who was a student at Manchester College (now University). He died in 1992. His parents were educators and decided they needed something for their other son to process his grief as there was nothing for him at that time.

“So they kind of made it their mission and life’s work, after Ryan died, to bring something like that. It started out as a small grassroots operation,” Deegan said. “People don’t tend to hear about us unless they need us, but we never charge for our services. It’s all free. We do the family groups, Monday nights we do school groups. We do a crisis support.”

Even businesses, if they have someone die, Ryan’s Place can send in their counselors at no cost.

“We do a lot of crisis work in schools, as well, if a student has died, or a teacher,” Deegan said. “We also do a lot of educational things for teachers and social workers and the community on children’s grief.”