Camp Brave Heart is all about healing.
Created in 2010 as an outreach program offered by Cypress Basin Hospice, the camp focuses on giving young children the tools necessary to deal with the loss of a loved one. Since its inception, more than 400 children have participated in the two-day camp.
The summer camps, held in Sulphur Springs, Paris and Mount Pleasant, are free to all participants, in large part, because of donations made by local businesses and individuals. Contrary to popular belief, the camp is not just for children whose families have received services from Cypress Basin Hospice. Camp Brave Heart is open to any child, living in communities throughout Northeast Texas, who has suffered personal loss in their lives.
Said Vargas was only 11 years old when he lost his older brother. After attending the camp for several years, Vargas, now 15, participated as a volunteer this summer. His younger sister also attended the 2017 camp held Aug.2-3 at Trinity Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant.
“This camp helps kids to not feel alone,” he said. “I’ve learned that talking about it actually helps.”
For J. Read Pearson, Executive Director for Cypress Basin Hospice, Camp Brave Heart symbolizes the opportunity for the organization to have future impact on the community.
“The philosophy for Camp Brave Heart is that children naturally, through their lives, experience loss and they begin experiencing loss early on–maybe it’s a great grandparent maybe it’s a grandparent,” Pearson explained. “Maybe it’s a tragic circumstance where somebody dies before they are normally expected to die like a brother, a parent or a close friend. Children experience loss and that’s a normal part of living. What we think needs to happen, through the Christian construct, is to give them the tools early on to begin dealing with loss in their lives. As they learn better how to use these tools through repeat experiences such as the camp, they become more proficient in applying these tools. Through healing and learning that loss is a natural part of living, they become healthier people. As our children become healthier children, they grow up to build healthy communities and that’s what we want to have happen. That’s why Camp Brave Heart is an important part of our outreach ministry at Cypress Basin Hospice.”
Suzette Reeves, a Hospice volunteer, coordinated the three camps this year.
“I just love the bonding that takes place at the camp,” Reeves said. “This camp is one of my favorite experiences in Hospice because it gives the children an opportunity to just heal.”
Healing is exactly what a group of students at Northeast Texas Community College are learning about in preparation for becoming nurses. Several students from the program volunteered and assisted with the camp.
“This camp is about letting kids know they are not alone,” explained NTCC student Suzy Ramirez, who is studying to become a pediatric nurse. “It allows them to openly talk about their feelings. We are here to listen and help in whatever we can.”
“I think being a part of this camp just makes us more compassionate,” said Rayla Edwards, who will graduate from the nursing program next May. “These children like to have fun with others who have gone through the same thing. For us, this camp is a reminder of why we do what we do and I think this experience will make us even better nurses someday.”
The camp features small group sessions and other team-building activities. On the final day of the camp, the participants release balloons in honor of the loved ones they have lost. The group then enjoys ‘fun day’ activities including waterslides and refreshments.
“As someone who has experienced a substantial amount of loss in my own life, I think Camp Brave Heart is so important because it teaches these kids a positive foundation of how to deal with grief and the emotions associated with loss,” explained Niki Haynes, Volunteer Services Coordinator for Cypress Basin Hospice. “These kids leave camp knowing Jesus, their families, and their communities love them and are here for them during not only during their good times but also during their difficult times. It’s important for them to know people care and what they are experiencing is normal. We want them to take their life experiences, including loss, and grow into productive community members and leaders. Our prayer as a community organization is that our camps help mold them into that productive member of society.”
For more information about Camp Brave Heart including how to apply for the 2018 camps, go to www.cbhospice.org.
By SONYA ROBERTS-WOODS