Losing a parent or sibling at a young age is a significant heartache
that requires extra support …and faith.
Imagine the measure of distress in a little girl’s broken heart, when all she imagines about the afterlife is that heaven is up, but she saw her daddy bring lowered down into the ground.
That is a true story of a 4-year-old who was unable to talk to her mom about Hell because she didn’t want to make Mom more sad. Fortunately, there is a place of love, safety, and faith where grieving children are able to heal, ask all the questions in their tender minds, and be with people who truly understand them.
Camp Agapé was the vision of Kimberly Turk 20 years ago; to create a place where little hurting hearts could experience healing together. It is the only Christian-based bereavement camp in the nation that provides grief support at no cost to attendees, and it is uniquely provided to children age 7-12 who have suffered the loss of a loved one. Four days each summer, roughly 50 children gather at a beautiful retreat facility in central Texas to process their trauma and be in an environment where they do not stand apart as the kid who lost his dad.
“Agapé means unconditional love, and in times of despair, this is exactly what children need most,” Kim says. “I am certain this camp was a divine calling on my heart, and my life’s purpose is to create a healing place. It is truly an honor to be able to do this.”
The non-denominational, Christian-based service is open to children of all faiths, or none, and offers all the swimming, horseback riding, games, and more, of a typical summer camp, along with therapy activities to assist with the bereavement process. “We do incorporate prayer as part of the healing process, and provide daily devotionals and journals for the children to take home with them. While it is not a ‘Bible camp’; we use many Biblical principles and Scriptural ideas to plant seeds of hope, guide new thoughts, and ultimately, give them effective tools for coping once they return home.”
Kim says she is especially touched when she meets a child without a foundation of spirituality. “Kids are always curious, and if parents are agnostic or atheist, they may be afraid to ask. Also, and most unfortunate, parental suicide is the number one reason kids come here, and many of our campers are the ones who found the parent. This can create issues of corporal guilt as well as concerns in faith, and why what we do is so needed. It’s a safe place to ask intense questions, freely share ideas, and receive comfort in the notion that their loved one is okay.”
“The objectives of camp are to let children know they are not alone in their grief, help them identify their feelings, and give them coping skills to grieve appropriately and productively even after they leave,” said Kim.
An important part of the process is the one-to-one ratio of an adult volunteer—a “Buddy”—for each camper. Buddies are often people who take personal vacation time from their jobs to help campers through the days’ activities, and witness the bonding between campers that inevitably occurs when, as Kim says, “They realize ‘someone gets me’ and they remain friends for life.”
Kim is also happy to announce the camp’s first full-time Executive Director, Monica Beatty. “Monica is a former director of the Williamson County Child Advocacy Center. We couldn’t be more pleased to have her expertise and compassion for children to help us get to the next level.”
Applications are available now for the 2020 program, held at Camp Capers (near Comfort, TX) at the end of June. Camp Agape is a 501c3 non-profit organization supported 100 percent by individual donors, business owners, churches, and civic organizations who understand the value of providing grief support and recovery for children in despair. Donate to PO Box 1484, Marble Falls, TX 78654 or online at CampAgapeTexas.org.
“We know the camp changes lives by the large number of campers who return as adults to volunteer with our program,” she adds. “That’s a measurable impact of our success. It is a profound joy to offer hope to children where none existed before,” Kim says. “It gives them the promise of a better tomorrow and the concept of life-everlasting.”
A Bright Future
Recognizing families would benefit from more than one visit, Camp Agapè also offers weekend retreats to assist the families. The entire family is invited to receive support and find solace in moving forward together. Kim says, “I want to help nurture an environment at home that will enable children to continue with healthy thoughts in a changed family unit. It is my hope that we will help strengthen them against loss that comes to all of us throughout life.”
HEALING FOR THE MOST COMPLICATED GRIEF
In 2006, when Cody Oliver was 11 years old, he found his father in the backyard. His dad had taken his own life with a firearm, and
understandably, Cody was traumatized by what he saw. “It’s hard to see your dad like that; to find him like that. The visualizations, the nightmares—they never go away. I relive that day in my dreams at least once or twice a month.”
Cody’s mom called Camp Agapé because he was having night terrors and wasn’t able to leave her side, for fear that something would happen to her too. He was also anxious that the nightmares would be unmanageable away from home.
Kim recalls, “Cody slept through the night here, I know, in the comfort, presence and covering of God. Everything we do is motivated by faith in the kind of divine healing that little boy received—it is the essence and substance of this ministry.”
Cody later told Kim he had been thinking of ways he was going to be able to kill himself, to get away from the pain, until he went to Camp Agapé. “This camp let me know that everything was going to be all right. This is the best thing for any kid; it literally saved my life, and that is why I come back every year to volunteer. I would tell any kid going through what I did, ‘You won’t regret coming here.’”