They are kids who have lost parents. Some have lost friends, children their own age. For many, they've lost grandparents.
The loss is what unfortunately connects them. And the camp they all attend, Camp Oz, is part of what helps them deal with that loss together.
“I think kids who lose somebody, they think that they're alone and nobody really understands … but at this camp, they can meet other kids that have suffered a loss,” said Jeanne Atkinson, hospice bereavement coordinator at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. “They can connect with other kids and know they're not alone.”
For the past eight years, the one-day Camp Oz event has offered children and families a combination of grief support and fun activities. Held at Bass Lake Camp in Winnebago, children are given opportunities to open up about their lost loved ones, to share in a group setting, to create memory art projects, and to engage in outdoor activities, such as rock-wall climbing and, this year, relay races.
Kellie Jansen, 22, attended camp the first year it opened when she was in ninth grade. When she was 5 months old, her 2-year-old brother drowned in the river in their backyard in rural Good Thunder.
“I guess I didn't really struggle with it too much as a child, but after eighth grade, I really started wondering what happened, why it happened and just not being able to remember him,” Jansen said.
Jansen's experience at Camp Oz did a lot for her, she said. She learned in that one day that she wasn't alone and that it was OK to be feeling what she was feeling. So for the past five years or so, she's gone back to the camp as a volunteer.
“It was definitely my experience (that made me volunteer). I just wanted to give back,” she said.