Hearts of Hope grief camp helps families heal - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Hearts of Hope grief camp helps families heal

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DANBURY, Wis. (KTTC) --  The Hearts of Hope grief connection is held twice a year, and while the stories of the campers are all different, the heartache they bring with them is very much the same.

The camp takes place at Luther Campground in Danbury, Wis. Every kid, parent, counselor, or volunteer at Hearts of Hope grief camp has lost a loved one.

"It's so relaxing because you don't have to try so hard not to cry in front of these people, because they really have something in common with you," said Alysha Owen, a teenage camper who lost her father in a car crash.

Many of those at camp, including camp director and St. Charles funeral director Jenny Hoff, are from Southeast Minnesota.

"You really get to know the people you're with and kids your age who are going through the same thing you are," said Katie Kramer, another teenage camper who lost her father.

The parents held their camp at Heartwood Conference Center, just down the road.

"I'm here because my fiance completed suicide," said Debbie Gonsioroski.

"My husband was hit by a driver in a work construction zone," shared Jodi Rajowski. 

Other parents shared their stories of loss.

"The feeling of grief to me at first, especially in the beginning, was the feeling of abject terror. When your guts are frozen and you can't eat anything and you constantly feel like your stomach's dropping. And I just felt terrified," said Doreen Devoy-Hulgan.

But camp is about balancing that grief with fun.

"I like the tie dying the T-shirts," said Maddie Hogue. 

The kids took part in tie dying, teddy bears, parachutes, crafts, petting the camp therapy dog Buddy, and of course, the camp song.

They're spending one weekend in an environment where everyone simply understands.

"Even though I met these people on Friday, like a day ago, I feel like you're my best friends, like I've known them forever," said Alysha Owen.

"I could share my story and just look around that table and they're all shaking their heads like 'yes, exactly' and it was just nice. Like oh, they get it," Rajowski said. 

"I used to be really tense about everything, but it's kind of help me relax and unwind," shared Daniel Kramer, who lost his dad to a helicopter accident.

On the last day of the weekend, they let out that last bit of tension on the anger wall by splattering it with dozens of eggs.

The shy, reserved kids I had seen on the first night of camp were now comfortable, happy, and healing.

"I learned that I like to write my feelings, because I wrote a huge message on the board," Maddie Hogue said. 

"I was able to let my anger out, let my grief out," said Brianna Castle.

"Because it's so much fun and it helps you. It's helping you with fun," Daniel Kramer said. 

In just three days, the camp is turning hurt into hearts of hope.

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