Ten years ago, Whitney Adler's vision became a reality. Behind the efforts of Adler, a board of directors and the support of surrounding communities, Camp Love's Embrace was established. By the end of the 2012 children's grief camp, scheduled for May 19-20 at the Lakota Retreat Center on Lake Shetek near Slayton, Camp Love's Embrace will have served more than 120 children.
"It's pretty amazing when you think about it," Adler of Woodstock said about the past decade. "It's unfortunate that bad things have to happen in kids' lives, but the camp is a great reason for kids to celebrate."
After watching a television news interview that showcased a cost-free grief camp on the East Coast for children affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Adler knew she wanted to do something similar in the southwest Minnesota area. And, 10 years later, Adler said she's still overwhelmed with the support from surrounding communities and civic groups.
"We've had a great response from the community and civic organizations like United Way, Schwan's, churches, Women of Today and Kiwanis," she said. "It's a great feeling to know the community wants the camp to be there."
Through generous donations, camp organizers have been able to offer the camp free to any child who wants to attend. They've also been able to expand the events and offer more take-home items for the kids, who typically range from approximately 7-14 years old and have experienced the death of a parent, sibling, grandparent, best friend or other significant person in their lives.
"It's amazing some of the breakthroughs we've made," Adler said. "There have been kids who have been tearful to leave their parents' side who begin to learn they're not the only ones going through something."
Prior to the establishment of Camp Love's Embrace, children from Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and northern Iowa had to travel many hours to either Denver, Colo. or to Des Moines, Iowa in order to attend an overnight grief camp.
"Most are from small, rural communities," Adler said. "The child might be the only one to have lost a mom or a dad. There's no one else in their school they can relate to, so this gives them someone they can connect with."
One-on-one mentors also provide often much-needed support for the campers.
"The kids really develop a bond with their mentor," Adler said. "It's often somebody they can open up to and learn to confide in. For a lot of kids, the mentor is someone who is safe."
Grief-stricken children sometimes unconsciously protect their parents, often hiding their own pain, she said. A lot of emotion tends to come out at the four healing circles, she said.
"Some won't cry in front of mom, but a mentor is somebody they can tell anything to," Adler said. "They can just be a kid and have fun. If they want to shed a tear, there are other kids shedding tears. If they want to laugh, there are other kids laughing and having fun."
In the past 24 hours (on Friday), Adler said there have been four more children who have signed up.
"I was getting a little nervous about having campers coming out of the woodwork a week before the camp," she said. "We're scrambling to find more mentors. This is one of our bigger camps we've had."
But at the same time, Adler is confident that all the preparations will be made to satisfaction. Coping skills are taught at the camp, but mostly, it's focused on having fun. Children typically look forward to the luau, bonfire and beanbag tournament.
"We've had fantastic feedback," Adler said. "That's why we keep going."
For more information on Camp Love's Embrace or to register, go to www.camplovesembrace.com.