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Sioux Falls Argus Leader

15-year-old sets up camp for grieving kids


Jill Callison
Argus Leader

Slayton, Minn., girl secures directors, donors for Camp Love's Embrace

TV personality Katie Couric changed Whitney Buesgens' life.

And the 15-year-old Minnesota girl hopes to have the same effect on others.

Buesgens and her mother, Lori, were watching The Today Show one morning last spring when Couric reported on an East Coast grief camp for children who lost a loved one on Sept. 11, 2001. 

A hospice volunteer since she was 7, Whitney Buesgens had seen others go through grief.  An overnight camp for children dealing with sorrow struck her as valuable.
But a little quick research showed her that children in this area had to travel to Des Moines or Denver for such an experience.
That's no longer true.
This May, Camp Love's Embrace will offer its first overnight grief camp for children, almost entirely through Buesgens' efforts.  She selected a board of directors, found an established camp that would open its doors to such a program, created a brochure explaining the camp's purpose and raised enough funds to offer the camp free of charge to participants.
Now Buesgens, a sophomore at Murray County Central High School in Slayton, is seeking children to attend Camp Love's Embrace and mentors to offer them one-on-one attention.
She's hoping for 20 kids and 20 buddies.
"We figure roughly it will cost about $2,100 for the camp," Buesgens says.  "It should cost about $110 per kid, and we're hoping nobody will have to pay."
Sally Berg, elementary principal for Murray County Central School, serves on the board of directors.  She had no qualms about the project's success based on her knowledge of Buesgens' resourcefulness.
"By the time she asked me to join the board, she had the initial brochures together," Berg says.  "I knew what Whitney is like, and when she has a good idea one day, it won't be forgotten the next."

Camp Love's Embrace will combine time to deal with grief with time to just be a kid and take advantage of the camp's outdoor activities.
The children will be able to express their grief through art, music, play, a "healing circle" and rituals, Buesgens says.  Each child will be encouraged to talk about the person they are mourning - parent, grandparent, sibling, friend - and create a memory book.
"And they'll have times to be kids," Buesgens says.
Interspersing activities with quieter times echoes the process of grief, says Greg Wasberg, a licensed family therapist in Worthington, Minn., who also serves on the camp's board.
"You can't just put your life on hold and go through the whole experience," he says.  "Nor can you just simply not grieve and go back to work like everything is normal.  You grieve, you do everyday things, you stop and grieve for a while again.  It's a time to feel the loss."
Sometimes, children are hesitant to share their emotions with a parent, fearful of evoking the adult's grief, Wasberg says.
"Kids can be enormously sensitive to parents' emotions and feelings and would be very careful to tiptoe around that," he says.  "That's not always the healthiest way to go about that."
The volunteer mentor's role is to be a listener, Berg says.
"With this camp, it will be a mixture of lots of laughter and some tears," she says.
More than 45 businesses and individuals have contributed toward the camp.  Some have given goods such as soft drinks.  Prairie Wave, a telecommunications firm, donated $110 to sponsor a camper.
To contact the potential donors, Buesgens turned to her mother and her grandparents, Donald and Fern Staples of Slayton.  She also is the daughter of Daniel Buesgens of Slayton.
"She doesn't drive yet," Lori Buesgens says.  "So Grandpa and Grandma took turns driving her places."
Not driving is about the only thing Buesgens doesn't do.  Buesgens, who will be 16 in April, participates in basketball, choir, speech, cross-country, golf, Spanish Club and Students Against Destructive Decisions and is active in the United Methodist Church in Slayton.
She began volunteering at the Murray County Hospice after hearing a speaker at church.  One of the hospice patients was a blind women who loved to be read to.  Seven-year-old Buesgens had just started to read fluently.

"So it all worked out," she says.
Reach Jill Callison at 331-2307 or jcalliso@argusleader.com

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