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Worthington Daily Globe

Love is breaking through in Slayton

Whitney Buesgens
Whitney Buesgens, creator of Camp Love's Embrace, stands in her home with a promotional display she made.

By Ryan McGaughey

SLAYTON - It takes only a few minutes with Whitney Buesgens to realize she isn't your typical 15-year-old.

Then, as she begins to discuss the new grief camp she's worked to establish, it becomes even clearer that this teen possesses a maturity far beyond her chronological age.

Buesgens recently founded Camp Love's Embrace, devoted to helping children ages 6-14 who have experienced the loss of a loved one, is in the process of raising money and recruiting both kids and adult mentors.  The free camp will be held May 3-4 at Lakota Retreat Center, located on Lake Shetek in Slayton.

Watching television one morning last spring, Buesgens was stricken with a news story on NBC's Today Show on a similar camp in New Jersey.

"They were doing an interview with a representative from that camp, and talking about how they were holding special weekends for children of 9-11," said Buesgens, explaining that youth who lost family members or loved ones in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were being helped by the camp.

"I thought it was really interesting.  After looking into it, I realized there weren't any camps like that in this area," she added.

Buesgens got on the Internet and researched available resources in the region.  She also spoke to her mother, who confirmed the camp was a good idea, and proceeded to contact a local social worker and grief counselor to obtain more feedback.

"When she (counselor) thought it was a very good idea to offer this to grieving families, I knew I had the support behind me," Buesgens said.

The counselor, who Buesgens stated didn't wish to be identified, helped assemble a list of names for a Board of Directors.  In September, Buesgens called a meeting and her board was formed, setting the stage for the next big chore: fund raising.

Buesgens said she had already approached various municipalities about financial donations before the board was created, and that she was usually referred to community civic groups and businesses.  She has received several donations from Kiwanis groups as well as the Slayton Women of Today, and has also gotten monetary support from The Schwan Food Co., Marshall.

"I've been doing all the fund-raising myself," Buesgens explained.  "I have my little speech, and I give it and answer whatever questions there are. I've raised about $2,200 so far."

She hopes to ultimately raise $2,500, "or maybe a little more," for the camp, which is billed on its promotional flier as "a place where grieving kids can grieve and embrace the love they've lost."  The weekend will include the creation of memory books, one-on-one time with a "big buddy" (mentor), a healing circle for group sharing and a balloon-release ceremony, as well as fun activities such a dance, bonfire, scavenger hunt and other games.

Buesgens also said a physician will be on hand to answer any lingering questions children may have about, for example, an illness a family member may have died from.

"We hope to have this annually," she said.  "If there are a bunch of kids, we'll look at having it twice a year instead of one time."

Buesgens, a sophomore at Murray County Central High School, has been volunteering since the age of 7.  She is also active in a myriad of activities - cross country, basketball, golf, choir, Students Against Destructive Decisions, Spanish Club and Speech Club - and carries a 4.0 grade point average.  She attends Slayton United Methodist Church and plays music there.

"I think this camp is just kind of important - and I'd like to offer something back to a community that's given me so much," Buesgens said.  "I never know when I may be the one who's going to need something from my community."

While she's certainly done a lot on her own, Buesgens points out she couldn't have done what she has with the camp without the help of her mother and grandparents.  After all, she isn't old enough to drive yet, and needs rides everywhere.

Buesgens is still seeking children, mentors and funding for the camp.  Mentors must be at least 19 years of age, and each will be subject to a criminal background check.

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