A place for grieving kids to be
Inspired by the Sept. 11 terror attacks, a
Slayton teenager has created a camp as an emotional haven for young
By Karen Gail Jostad
Star Tribune Staff Writer
Before she could drive,
15-year-old Whitney Buesgens was
pounding the pavement to raise money for her Camp
Embrace for grieving children.
In May, about a dozen
children with one-on-one mentors attended the
first free camping experience at Lakota Retreat Center on Lake Shetek
near her hometown of Slayton, Minn. The next camp is slated
May 15-16, 2004.
"You can never volunteer too
much or give too much to your community,"
said Whitney, now 16. If she can raise the money, she said
would like to offer the camp twice a year.
A straight-A student, avid
sportswoman and musician, Whitney has been
doing for others since she was 7, when she began reading to residents
of Our House Hospice of Murray County.
Her devotion to the
residents earned her an Eleven Who Care Award in
2001 from KARE-TV for outstanding volunteerism, and last year, a
Tradition of Caring Jefferson Award from the American Institute for
Whitney established Camp
Love's Embrace last year after hearing Katie
Couric, co-anchor of NBC-TV's "The Today Show," interview an East Coast
camp organizer for children affected by the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
After studying how the camps were run and about grief work
children, Whitney shared her vision for a local camp with a grief
social worker in Slayton.
"She helped me find a board
of directors and suggested where to go to get funding," Whitney said.
The teen canvassed
businesses in or near Slayton for support.
Whitney's mother, Lori, and grandparents, Don and Fern
of Slayton, drove her to speaking engagements at churches, Lion's and
Kiwanis Clubs and other civic groups. Contributions were
Schwan Foods in Marshall,
Minn., made a substantial contribution; also
Slayton Women of Today, Swift and Co., where Whitney's father, Dan, is
employed, and area funeral homes and individuals.
Whitney estimates that the
camping weekend costs about $3,000. A
family friend loaned her a computer and projector for PowerPoint
presentations. Word spread quickly after Slayton-area
wrote about Whitney's vision of a camp for grieving kids.
in Sioux Falls, which nominated Whitney for the Jefferson Award,
announced her plans on a newscast.
More help pours in
Slayton attorney Paul Malone
and accountant Jim Gerber offered to
handle the camp's legal and financial matters for free. A
officer and school principal agreed to be on the camp's board of
directors. Whitney's grandparents offered to cook.
"It makes me very grateful
that we have people in the community who will help me out," Whitney
During the two-day camp in
May, mentors at Camp Love's Embrace arrived
on Friday; campers the next day. Mentors must be 19 or older
there are criminal background checks. The mentors' primary
Whitney said, is "to be an extra pair of ears to listen to what the
kids have to say or a shoulder to cry on for what the kids need."
Greg Wasberg, a family
therapist with Southwest Mental Health in
Worthington, Minn., provided free counseling at the camp and
facilitated the "healing circles." They include stories of
and grief, such as "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf," by Leo Buscaglia,
and opportunities for campers and mentors to share their thoughts and
"The significant benefit for
the kids was the chance to share the same
experience," said Wasberg, "and to connect with an adult who's gone
through that same sort of thing."
Following each circle,
campers and mentors create memory pages about
the loved ones who have died. The pages are bound and sent
with the camper.
"It is our hope that through
working on these books that provoke happy
memories the children will open up and talk to their mentors about
their loved one and realize it's OK to talk about, remember and feel
good about the shared happy times," Whitney said.
One camper's experience
On May 7, Whitney received
an e-mail from Monica Jensen of Beresford,
S.D., whose 9-year-old son, Drew, attended Camp Love's Embrace.
His 17-year-old sister, Amanda, had been killed in a car
in July 2001. Drew brought to camp a poem titled "Heaven,"
Amanda wrote a year before her death. On one memory page he
that he felt "different than other kids."
"In our little community his
classmates all have their brothers and
sisters," Monica Jensen said. "I think he felt odd at school.
Seeing there were other kids at camp in the same boat as him
helped toward his healing."
On the way home from camp
Drew told his mother he already missed it.
"It's been only three days
[since camp], but I do see a change," Jensen
wrote Whitney. "He usually came home with negative things to
focus on and that seems to be much better."
"I found out that I can
cry," Drew told his mother.
The ABCs of Feelings page
was especially helpful to her son, Monica Jensen said.
"It was about how they felt
when the person died," she said.
"There were words in there [Drew wrote] that I was kind of surprised
about. For every letter they had to write a word.
he wrote 'lost inside,' and Q, 'questions.' I think that
me to better help him. You get so wrapped up in your own
inside and you don't know how to help them. These words kind
give you something to go on."
Monica Jensen said she
wishes there was a "mom camp."
During the camp's closing
ceremony, a balloon was released by each
child, accompanied by their mentor and family. Attached was a
note written by the child to the lost loved one.
"I wasn't prepared myself
for how emotional it was to light the candle
and release the balloon," Monica Jensen said, "but all of that is
If you know an outstanding
volunteer you'd like to see featured in
this column, please write to Helping Out, Faith &
Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488.
Karen Gail Jostad is at