UW-Green Bay's Camp Lloyd grows, evolves in effort to help grieving kids

When UW-Green Bay’s Camp Lloyd got its start in 2006, camp founder Illene Cupit Noppe struggled to find nine children to be part of the inaugural year. Skip forward to 2011, and the day camp for grieving children has 45 kids — and that’s after Cupit Noppe tried to impose a cap of 40, she notes with a smile.

That’s not all that’s changed in a relatively short timeframe. Once a half-day program, Camp Lloyd now runs from 8:30 a.m. until 5:45 p.m. Monday through Friday of camp week in June. Campers are split into upper and lower camp groups by age, and activities — there are new ones every year — are tailored to the age range and maturity of each.

And while Camp Lloyd has grown in scope and popularity, the underlying mission of the program has remained a constant. Cupit Noppe, a UW-Green Bay professor and expert on death, dying and bereavement, started the camp to serve and counsel young people who have lost a family member or friend. At the same time, she says, Camp Lloyd lets kids know they’re not alone — and that they can still have fun.

“We want to show the kids that even when you’re suffering from a loss,” Cupit Noppe said, “it’s OK to have a good time.”

So Camp Lloyd, housed at the Mauthe Center on campus, combines group “healing circles” with games and campfires, the work of trained counselors with swimming and field trips. Some activities incorporate fun along with healing, such as visits from trained therapy dogs and creating craft-project “memory boxes” that allow kids to be creative while memorializing a loved one.

In addition to trained grief counselors, campers pair with UW-Green Bay student “buddies,” trained staffers who go through a rigorous interview and application process to be selected. Many, like head counselor Erin Ehlers, plan to pursue grief therapy as a career.

Originally an environmental science major, Ehlers changed course after she became a Camp Lloyd buddy. Now the UW-Green Bay senior is looking forward to applying what she’s learned in her future career.

“You learn a lot, just about the different processes that help the kids out,” Ehlers said, “what things work, what things don’t — I’ve learned a lot this year.”

Camp Lloyd 2011 wraps up Friday, June 17. For more information, visit the website.

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Photos by Kelly McBride, Marketing and University Communication

Camp Lloyd video transcript
Erin Ehlers, Camp Lloyd Head Counselor:
The children who come to camp have experienced a loss in the past few years. We get a lot of families that come — we have a few siblings that come together, which is really great to see. And we just provide them with an opportunity to meet other children who have also experienced a loss, so they know that they’re not alone — they aren’t so unique when they meet everyone else here.
One of the misconceptions about camp is that we sit around and cry all day, and that’s absolutely not what we do. Our point is to show people that it’s OK to have fun; you can be a kid again. So we just really work on getting everyone to be silly and crazy and have as much fun as they can at a summer camp.

Alex VanStraten, Camp Lloyd camper:
This is my third year coming to Camp Lloyd and it is a pretty good experience because, if a loved one in your family has passed away, you can come here, have fun, talk about your feelings and everything.

Illene Cupit Noppe, Camp Lloyd Founder and Director:
Every single day, we have what is known as healing circles. That takes place in the morning. And I have two amazing grief therapists who work with the healing circles— which are group support circles — and every day in the healing circles, we encourage the kids the first day to share their stories who died; how did they feel.

Gail Trimberger, Camp Lloyd grief counselor:
We spend some time talking about feelings and behaviors that happen as a result of a loss. Then we move into coping a little bit — like what are ways that you, what are things that you do to deal with the losses; and what are some healthy ways to cope. What are some — where are some places that you can find support.
We talk about memories, and how good memories can be used in a helpful way, and what to do with memories that don’t feel so good. And then we just basically talk about transitions — how you move through life knowing — having had this big change in your life.

Illene Cupit Noppe:
I think what makes us unique is the fact that my counselors — who we call Camp Lloyd buddies — are my students. And these are students, they have to go through a rigorous application and interview process. So now, at this point in time, it is considered an honor to be a Camp Lloyd buddy.

Erin Ehlers:
From the beginning — I was originally an environmental science major, and then I did Camp Lloyd, and I decided ‘Wow, this really inspires me. This is something I’m passionate about, helping these kids.’ and I think grief therapy is something I wanted to go into, so I changed my major — and now coming back as head counselor, I know it’s going to help me because seeing the organizational end, and how much work goes into even crating a camp, is really enlightening. You learn a lot, just about the different processes that help the kids out — what things work, what things don’t — I’ve learned a lot this year. And just the experience of hearing the stories of other people is going to help me when I go to be a counselor, because it’ll be some things I’ve heard before — so I’ll know how to handle it a little bit better, I think.