By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Tristesse Healing Hearts Grief Center held Oklahoma’s first overnight grief camp for kids and teens last month in Tulsa, at Camp Loughridge, 4900 W 71st Street.
The Healing Hearts Camp was provided free of charge to 57 children in need. The camp was designed to help children ages 8-18 who have experienced the death of a loved one. Seventy nine percent of the campers had lost a parent or a sibling.
“Camp would not have been possible without our generous partner, New York Life,” says Susan Bramsch, Executive Director of The Grief Center. “The Community Impact Grant we received allowed this dream to become a reality, and we had so many New York Life employees volunteering during camp. Their hard work was truly invaluable.”
The camp helps kids get through their grief and into healing.
During the program, campers were able to meet other kids their age who understand what it is like to lose someone close to them. While there, unbreakable bonds are formed with other children who can empathize with their grief.
“This camp has been amazing.” said one Healing Hearts camper. “It has meant a lot to me to find true friends I will have forever.”
In addition to sharing their own experiences with grief and loss, campers participated in curriculum facilitated by professional grief counselors while being allowed to just be kids.
Participants spent the weekend canoeing, zip-lining, swimming, playing games, and learning healthy ways to express their feelings.
“It was truly a life changing experience for our campers,” says Bramsch. “This weekend will travel with them for the rest of their lives.
“These kids are able to walk away from camp with lifelong friends, coping skills they can use as they grow up, and an understanding that no matter how bad things get, there is a caring community around them that is willing to fight for them when they cannot stand up for themselves.”
One camper summed up her experience saying, “It was amazing to realize that I’m not the only person who has ever been through something like this. We all have a different story, but we all share one of the most important parts. I loved camp.”
Founded in 2002, the Tristesse Healing Hearts Grief Center began in part from the inspiration of a courageous 14-year-old girl, Tristesse “Tess” Gonsalves, who struggled with cancer for six years.
Tess was deeply concerned about those she would be leaving behind. In spite of her illness, Tess wanted all who knew her to go on to celebrate life and face death with courage.
Her compassion inspired those close to her to research what options of bereavement counseling, services and programs were available in the Tulsa metro community.
At that time, grief-related services in the Tulsa community were not easily accessed.
Upon opening, the Grief Center began providing professional, independent and affordable grief services to clients in northeast Oklahoma regardless of age, ethnicity, religion, cultural background or socioeconomic status.
Support opportunities for grieving children and adults include individual and group counseling, special events and grief education.
The Center also provides support to local schools and organizations through education, training, and facilitation of memorial events. The Crisis Response Team is available to deal with school, business or organization experiences following a trauma or crisis.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit and United Way certified organization, the Tristesse Grief Center is dedicated to providing professional grief counseling to all grieving persons regardless of their ability to pay.
“The Grief Center is already fundraising for Healing Hearts Camp 2016, so that no child will ever be turned away because of a lack of funding,” said Bramsch.
To donate or volunteer for the 2016 Healing Hearts Camp, visit thegriefcenter.org. For more information call 918-587-1200.