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Greg Blass
Good grief: Local day-camp offers kids a safe place to learn to cope with death

Photo: Camp Good Grief's website.

Of all the overwhelming stresses for kids today, none can match the death of a loved one, be it a parent, grandparent, sibling or other person close to them.

Blass_Greg_head_badgeChildren have yet to develop an understanding of what it means to die. Most cannotexpress verbally the jolting emotions of grief. And for many children who suffer such loss, their families often fail to see how deeply their younger members are affected, owing to how the entire family is in turmoil.

Would you believe there’s actually a kids’ camp for this, dedicated not only to easing their grieving, but also to teaching them coping skills that will endure for their lifetimes? The one-week, carefully planned program that mixes sports and games with music therapy, art therapy, counseling and more is totally free of charge for all children who attend, and it’s right here on the North Fork.

And wait till you hear what it has been called for the past twenty years of its operation: Camp Good Grief.

As a day camp (not overnight – mindful that the kids need to stay connected to their grieving households), Camp Good Grief’s most beneficial feature is the chance for these kids to meet others their very own age whose loss is just like theirs, and has hit just as hard. From the start they interact with their age group.

Each group of same age kids, from four years of age through 16, has all their programs and events together. The goal is to show each child how others may share a very similar, devastating loss in their young lives. A dozen or so kids are in each group which is supervised by a therapist counselor, a couple of co-captain counselors and some college interns, all scrupulously screened and formally trained in child bereavement issues and confidentiality.

Let’s consider one example of how children at camp gently encounter their losses: first, all will sit in a common circle with a ball of yarn. Without being forced, one by one they are asked to explain in their own words why they came to Camp Good Grief. Each quietly reveals, while holding the ball of yarn, what happened to whom they miss. When finished, each will pass the ball but still hold onto a string of the yarn. It’s amazing how they open up in this setting. By the time their stories are done, they see that they are all connected not just with a string of yarn but a similar narrative of loss and sadness, proving in a subtle but direct way that they are not alone.

East End Hospice conceived and set up Camp Good Grief in the 1992 after recognizing the need for help among kids who find themselves struggling to cope. Their losses need not originate with a hospice patient, but from any cause. Families, or a guardian, will apply between camp seasons to EEH, and all applications are given closest scrutiny.

Most of the last twenty sessions of Camp Good Grief have been held at Peconic Dunes Camp in Southold, right on the Sound with a fabulous pond. The program is filled with games, swimming and kayaking, fishing and rides, and special events such as carnival day and playing basketball with the Harlem Wizards, and great food. Buses carry kids and volunteers from several points on the North and South Forks to the camp. The first bus ride is quiet and subdued. But by the last day, the buses resound with energy and delight among new friends.

Camp Good Grief is a moving experience for the student volunteers and professional staff. It is a true miracle in the kids’ lives. Many return for a second season. Parental feedback is uniformly grateful and enthusiastic.

Camp occurs each summer during the third week of August. If you want to enroll your child, or participate in the comprehensive training to be a volunteer, or to make a charitable contribution to the camp’s operation, please don’t hesitate to call East End Hospice at 631-288-7080.

Editor’s note: Greg Blass is the vice chairman of the East End Hospice board of directors.

Greg Blass has spent his life in public service since he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager. He has worked in the private sector as an attorney and served six terms representing the East End in the Suffolk County Legislature, where he was also presiding officer. Greg has worked as an adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College, as Greenport village attorney, as N.Y. State family court judge and as Suffolk County social services commissioner. Now retired, Greg is active in volunteer work and is a member of the board of directors of several charities. A resident of Jamesport, he and his wife Barbara have two grown children.

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Greg Blass
Greg has spent his life in public service since he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager. He is a former Suffolk County Family Court judge, six-term Suffolk County legislator and commissioner of Social Services. Now retired, Greg is active in volunteer work and is a board member of several charities. He lives in Jamesport. Email Greg