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June 30th, 2016

Camp Oz Lets Grieving Kids Feel Understood, Not Alone

By In the Loop

CampOz805Around the time Eunhye Choi graduated from high school, a close family member was diagnosed with cancer. Eunhye held out hope that she would survive the diagnosis. "I believed miracles would happen," says Eunhye, who cared for her family member throughout the illness. When no miracle was forthcoming, Eunhye says she "didn't know how to cope with the grief. My life was stuck in the past for a long time."

Eventually, she moved forward. And now, Eunhye is using her experiences with grief to help other young people who have lost loved ones. As a graduate student in psychology at Minnesota State University, Mankato, Eunhye completed a practicum with Mayo Clinic Health System's Hospice Program. She worked primarily with Camp Oz, a grief camp for kids. (You can read more about the camp in a story we published last year.)

"I decided to help grieving children," says Eunhye, who is from Korea. "In my county, there is not much help provided for grieving individuals. I want to provide more opportunities to help others out." She realized her ability to "genuinely understand the grief of other people" could be an asset to others — and to herself. "Understanding others' pain can be healing, too," she says. 

As part of her experience with Camp Oz, Eunhye developed an evaluation tool that will help staff fine-tune the program. "I'll be using her research findings to improve the camp experience for our future campers," says Jeanne Petroske-Atkinson, bereavement coordinator for the hospice program at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. Eunhye's research, which she presented at the International Death, Grief and Bereavement Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, revealed the program had both strengths to build on and weaknesses to address. "It was reassuring to learn that kids felt connected to others at camp and felt safe talking about their feelings with others who understood what they were going through," Petroske-Atkinson says.

Eunhye also made a video about Camp Oz, which was presented to all of the campers. "I wanted to show them their smiles," she says. "Children had a great time at Camp Oz. I saw many happy faces even though they had lost a loved one. And I knew this was not because they forgot their loved one and got rid of the grief, but because they felt understood." She hopes the video will remind the children that they aren't alone in their loss. "Understanding each other's pain" is a reminder, she says, that "we are not alone."

Staff are gearing up for this year's camp, which will be held on Saturday, Oct. 1, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. For information on volunteering or registering a camper, contact Petroske-Atkinson at 507-385-2989 or Atkinson.jeanne@mayo.edu.

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