Camp helps grieving kids cope

17 children make second year of Camp Lloyd success

By Kelly McBride June 30, 2007

Joe Arms remembers the little things about his mom, Marie Laurent.

How she used to come in and turn off the TV once he'd fallen asleep. How her favorite color — like his — was blue.

He keeps a pinch of her ashes in a small glass dolphin that hangs around his neck, and the date of her death — April 24, 2004 — is firmly engrained in his mind.

Arms, 12, has been through a lot during the last three-plus years. This week, he attended a different kind of summer camp to help him cope.

Designed for children grieving the loss of a loved one, Camp Lloyd on Friday wrapped up its second year at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The camp is operated as a partnership with Unity Hospice.

Organizers have nearly doubled attendance versus last year — this year's camp has 17 campers — and are happy to be reaching more kids, said Illene Noppe, camp founder and UWGB professor of human development.

After last year's inaugural camp, Noppe and fellow camp staffers spent time discussing what went well and what didn't.

"There are a number of people throughout the country who are running grief camps," Noppe said. "Most of them are overnight camps — they're not really this type of model, but they're similar enough. So I picked their brains for ideas and talked to a number of people. It's kind of on the back of my mind all year round."

The camp is named for Noppe's husband, fellow UWGB professor Lloyd Noppe. His father died when he was 8 years old, and Lloyd found it tough to cope.

The camp takes the contents of traditional day camps and pairs them with structured grief activities designed to help campers deal with their loss.

Grief counselors from Unity Hospice joined Noppe and 18 trained UWGB student interns for "healing circle" activities like sharing campers' stories and writing letters, poems or songs.

This year's campers also received "coping bags" filled with items like blankets, markers and crayons to help students express their feelings and stones to remind students of their strength.

There's one-on-one time and plenty of group games to break up the somber nature of the healing circle activities. Most of the student counselors are human development or social work majors.

Involvement with Camp Lloyd has a special meaning for UWGB student Susan McCabe, 21. McCabe's mother died of breast cancer when she was 9 years old, she said. McCabe wishes she'd had something like Camp Lloyd.

The experience can be tiring but there are plenty of rewards, McCabe said.

"Yesterday, when I was leaving, my buddy … blew me a kiss and told me he was going to miss me and gave me a big hug," McCabe said. "And I guess it's the things like that, knowing you make a difference and they appreciate you being here. … It just makes it all worth it in the end."

Erika Linzmeier and Ellie Walder Erika Linzmeier, left, comforts Ellie Walder, 8, as kids share their memory boxes of lost loved ones in a group circle Thursday at Camp Lloyd on the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus. The camp gives kids a chance to open up about their feelings, interact, build a memory box, play and participate in a candle-lighting ceremony. Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette


Laura Molling, left, helps Eva Wadzinski, 8, light a candle to remember the loss of a loved one at Camp Lloyd. Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette