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Camp Evergreen in Southern Indiana helps kids and their families heal after a loved one’s death

A blue flag features a tree with a heart on it and says 'Evergreen.' Beyond the flag, you can see trees with green, orange and yellow leaves in the distance.
Hosparus Health
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Hosparus Health
The Hosparus Health Grief Counseling Center hosts Camp Evergreen each year to help kids and their families cope with the loss of someone close to them.

The weekendlong retreat helps recently bereaved families process their grief together — while also having some old-fashioned fun.

The Hosparus Health Grief Counseling Centerwill host the 28th annual Camp Evergreen from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 at Country Lake Christian Retreat in Underwood, Indiana.

Camp director Joe Ferry said the retreat features traditional camp activities, like hiking in the woods and paddling canoes. But the core of the program is the special grief workshops they do during the weekend

“When people can step out of their environment … and their day-to-day, it really is a gift to … do some intentional focus on taking care of yourselves, your family and your grief,” said Ferry, who’s a licensed mental health professional.

Ferry said Camp Evergreen helps families enhance their connection to each other and build their resilience at a time when it can feel like their family is falling apart — especially after death of an immediate family member.

“It gives parents an opportunity to not feel like they have to have it all together. They're allowed to grieve, too. But it also empowers children to step up to the plate and be able to contribute to their own healing but also the healing of their family,” he said.

Dealing with grief is difficult work, so they counterbalance that part of the retreat with lighthearted activities.

“It’s weird to say we put the ‘fun’ in ‘grief,’ but it’s actually also a very enjoyable experience for families,” Ferry said.

Jim Pilbean is a volunteer with Hosparus Health who’s helped out at Camp Evergreen for years. An especially helpful session they do at the camp is one where people express how they’re feeling through words and drawings that they put down on thin sheets of paper.

Then they post those sheets on a wall and tear them up by throwing hard balls of clay at the paper. As they throw, they scream and holler.

“They’re dealing with their grief with some anger. And the release that they have …. it’s hard to describe. Because you just see a lot of the stress leaving their face when they’re doing that,” he said.

Campers make connections with the other families who join the retreat. And they find common ground with volunteers like Pilbean, too.

“One of the ways I’m able to relate with a lot of the teenagers that we have that come to camp is that I was 17 when my dad passed,” Pilbean said. “So I can relate with them losing a parent that early in life because I’ve experienced that. I can talk about how that’s worked for me, how I take that to heart.”

Camp Evergreen is generally open to families with children ages 6 and up who’ve experienced the death of someone important in their lives within the past two years.

Ferry said families seem best prepared for the retreat’s grief exercises if at least two months have passed since the death.

The cost of camp is $100 for a family of two, plus $25 for each additional family member. There’s scholarship assistance for families based on financial need.

Registration for Camp Evergreen is open through Tuesday. Interested families can call Hosparus Health at 502-456-5451. They can also register online.

Morgan is LPM's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.