UM-Flint Nursing Students Help Grieving Youth at Camp

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A crew of UM-Flint nursing students are heading to summer camp in August to help children and teens grieving the loss of a loved one.

This is the 10th straight year UM-Flint has partnered with Wellspring Lutheran Services, which runs the bereavement camp in Lapeer. The students work with social workers to help the campers cope with loss, while having typical camp fun, like swimming, boating, campfires, and hiking.

Camp Hope is a free program of Wellspring Lutheran Services, which pays for it through fundraising, grants, and donations.

Maureen Tippen, a clinical assistant professor of nursing at UM-Flint, helped forge the partnership ten years ago. A nurse may spend much of his or her career helping grieving family members and dying patients. Talking about dying is a skill often honed on the job, said Tippen. This camp gives students a chance to learn firsthand how to help young people mourning the loss of a family member, friend, neighbor, or anyone else they loved.

“They are not just in the background as a helper. They really are an integral part of the team,” she said.

Camp Hope is a two-night, three-day camp for children and teens age 6 to 17. Several socials workers from Wellspring Lutheran Services work with the campers, who are grouped together by age. Tippen serves as the camp nurse. This year’s camp runs from August 17 to August 19.

The young people express their grief and loss through a wide range of bereavement activities, including through crafts, journals, and art. The UM-Flint students receive extensive training beforehand from Wellspring, including discussions of each campers’ background, said Tippen. Some campers have lost family members through suicide or violence. Others have seen the loved one die in person. The range of response is great, she said.

Jane Olivier, a social workers and bereavement coordinator with Wellspring Lutheran Services, is the director of Camp Hope. She said the university’s involvement is greatly beneficial for everyone.

“It’s wonderful. It’s a blessing like no other,” Olivier said about the UM-Flint partnership. “We are so grateful. There is just an energy that comes with them.”

Olivier said the experience, along with working with social workers, should help UM-Flint students in their career.

“I think in their nursing career, taking that with them, is such a blessing for their patients, and patients’ families and for them. It is that ripple effect,” she said.

Students participate either through an elective nursing course, or purely as volunteers. Jun Lee, a nursing student at UM-Flint, attended last year for class. Meeting and working with the young people left him so impressed he is going back this year as a volunteer.

“I love the camp. I love working with the kids. I volunteered as soon as I knew I had the time available,” he said.

Lee said last year’s camp helped him learn how to react to a person’s grief and their response to grief.

“I want to make sure they trust me enough to tell me things,” she said.

Before attending camp, the nursing students study the various ways people grieve, and how this may vary in young people, based on their developmental level.

“They come to us very knowledgeable, and with a lot of good information,” Olivier said.

The UM-Flint nursing students also keep a journal during the camp, and analyze how they responded to the needs of the children and teens. Tippen said her students handle the balance of fun and mourning with skill and compassion.

“The Wellspring people love our students,” Tippen said. “I’m proud of them.”

Robert is a staff writer in University Communications & Marketing. Contact him with comments, questions, and story ideas.