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Marshall Independent Newspaper

The Camp That Heals

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

By Cindy Votruba
Independent Staff Writer

SLAYTON - It was a news segment on The Today Show that encouraged Whitney Buesgens of Slayton to do something for children who have experienced the pain of losing a loved one.

The Murray County Central sophomore has spent the last year planning and organizing a grief camp for children, Camp Love's Embrace.  The first camp weekend is May 3-4 at the Lakota Retreat Center on Lake Shetek.  Buesgens is the camp's founder and serves as the camp's board president.  Camp Love's Embrace is designed for kids aged 6-14 who have lost a parent, grandparent, sibling or close friend.  Campers will be paired up with a "big buddy" for the weekend.

The camp is free for those who wish to attend.  Campers will participate in a number of activities - a scavenger hunt, bonfire, ice-breaker games, making a memory book, canoeing, sports, healing circles, deejay music and a balloon release.

Buesgens' plan to start a grief camp for children started more than a year-and-a-half ago, when the nation was hit with one of its biggest tragedies.  After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Buesgens was watching The Today Show with Katie Couric.  Couric was interviewing a representative of a grief camp on the East Coast.

"I looked into it, and I realized there's camps on both coasts, but a significant lack in the Midwest," Buesgens said.

Buesgens contacted a local grief counselor and asked about starting a grief camp.

"And with her help and support, I just started," Buesgens said.

Buesgens also started contacting colleges that had masters of social work programs, looking for mentors from their student base.  The college students would be volunteers at the camp.

"I started going to Kiwanis, Women of Today, local civic groups to look for donations and contributions," Buesgens said.

About 45 to 50 businesses and organizations have already pledged their support, Buesgens said.

Buesgens also put together a brochure for the camp, detailing the camp's activities and mission.  According to the brochure, "Grieving children often feel very isolated because they rarely know anyone their age who has experienced the death of a family member or someone very close to them.  And their parents - their primary source of emotional support - are grieving the same death.  Children see their parents sad or crying and fear that, by sharing their own pain with them, they will make their parents even more sad.  So they become protective of their parents and keep their feelings to themselves."

Buesgens said the camp will help the children work through their grief by sharing their feelings and stories with "old and new friends."

"The realization that grief is OK, that it's OK to be sad and that there are other kids who are going through the same thing," Buesgens said.

Buesgens is also involved with her church, United Methodist Church, serving as the youth coordinator for the administrative board.  As coordinator, she leads the UNICEF drives, helps with Bible school and assists with ditch clean-up.

Buesgens also volunteers at the Murray County Hospice's "Our House," something she has been doing since she was seven.

"I talk to the people, read stories if they like, kind of chat with them, tell them what it's like outside," Buesgens said.

Murray County Central Elementary Principal Sally Berg, serves as the vice-president of the camp's board of directors.  Berg said that when a student proposes an idea with so much work, it sometimes may be difficult to get off the ground.  But, knowing Buesgens and her work ethic, she knew that the camp would work out.

"She follows through very well," Berg said.

At first, the camp was going to take place next spring, Berg said, but plans worked out earlier.

"It really looked like it was a go," Berg said.

Buesgens did a lot of the groundwork for the camp - checking rental prices and the members on the board have helped Buesgens with financial and practical advice on helping with kids' needs, Berg said.

Although a lot of her time has been devoted to Camp Love's Embrace, Buesgens is also involved with cross-country, Spanish, basketball, SADD, choir, speech, playing the piano. She is currently on the school's golf team.

"She's always been a high-functioning student," Berg said.

Buesgens said they're hoping to pair up 20 kids with 20 mentors.  She also would like to have the camp annually.

"We're almost done, we're still looking for more volunteers and kids," Buesgens said. "It's getting closer to being filled."

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