Of all the Camp Lloyd activities that blend the fun of being a kid with the serious challenge of coping with a loved one’s death, it is the making of a memory box that is perhaps the most special.
Campers assemble and decorate the boxes themselves, placing photos and mementos of loved ones inside.
“You get to build your memory box … and then you can paint it however you want,” said 13-year-old Sasha, “and you get to put stuff in there that you like and remind(s) you of them.”
Sasha is in her second year at UW-Green Bay’s Camp Lloyd, making another special memory box to honor her mom, who died three years ago of pancreatic cancer.
“Her favorite color was blue, so I colored it with blue,” Sasha said, “and I put a pancreatic cancer symbol on the back and I put ‘mom’ on the front.”
Sasha’s big buddy, UW-Green Bay senior Olyvia Kuchta, is there for the fun — and for the tough stuff, too.
“It’s just been amazing — I just love to see the kids, how they respond to all of the supportive environment that we have here,” Kuchta said. “It’s just great for them to be able to have support because they’re dealing with some really heavy issues. But we get to be funny and have fun and just do different activities — so it’s great, and I love to be a part of it.”
Begun in 2006 by UW-Green Bay Professor Illene Cupit, Camp Lloyd is designed to normalize grief and build self-esteem for kids who have experienced a loss. But that’s not all.
“The other thing that we try to do is show the kids that it’s OK to still be a kid,” Cupit said. “Many of them grow up very fast, feeling guilty for having a good time, for laughing, experiencing some of the joys of childhood. And we let them know that that’s OK and that their loved ones would want them to do these things.
Big buddies like Kuchta, a Psychology major, receive special training to work with the kids, and many return to Camp Lloyd after earning advanced degrees in counseling.
“And it’s just so gratifying to see not only the transformation in the campers,” Cupit said, “but the transformation in my students.”
After a week packed with fun and healing, the campers will leave with reminders — both tangible and intangible — that they’re not alone. It’s a difference, Cupit says, that lasts.
“By the end of the week, they have been so transformed,” she said. “ … You can just see on their faces, a magical transformation. They don’t look like the same kid that we see on Monday.”