EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
Camp Agape is only four days, but those 96 hours will change children’s lives. The keys to that are the Buddies.
Camp Agape, a bereavement camp for ages 7-12, returns July 8-11 to Camp Buckner Retreat Center between Burnet and Kingsland. The four-day camp, which is free to the families, features all the typical summer camp experiences, including swimming, fishing, and playing games. However, the main purpose of the camp is to help the kids, who have lost someone close to them, develop tools to work through the bereavement process.
The Buddies are a big part of that, and there’s a need for more. A Buddy is an adult volunteer who stays by a camper’s side throughout the week. They go to the games, the swims, and the bereavement programs with the kids, even staying in the same cabins overnight.
It’s a life-changing experience, both for the child and the adult.
“It definitely changes the adult volunteers,” said Bradley Williams of Granite Shoals.
Last year, after reading about Camp Agape, Williams volunteered to be a Buddy. He understood some of what he might be getting into because of his experience with pediatric cancer camps and the loss of his dad when he was 21.
Camp Agape is truly unique.
While it’s a “bereavement” camp, it’s not hours of sad moments. There is lots of laughing, smiles, and fun.
“The schedule is pretty packed,” Williams said. “When you meet your camper, you go over to their cabin with them, get their stuff in, meet a few of the others in the cabin, and then you go swimming.
“You’re always doing something,” he continued.
Last year, Williams was a Buddy for young boy who had lost his older brother. During camp, the boy caught his first fish — ever. And Williams was there by his side. It’s something Williams will never forget.
While campers and Buddies have plenty of fun, Williams said what sets Camp Agape apart from similar organizations is its wholistic approach to helping kids deal with loss.
The camp uses a number of things, including play therapy, art therapy, and even equine therapy. All this, along with a Christian, faith-based approach, makes a big difference, Williams said.
“You see God start the healing process in the kids, but also in the adults,” he added.
Many, if not all, of the adults have experienced a loss of a loved one in their lives as well, not necessarily as a child. Williams said that, as he watched his camper begin working through his brother’s death, he also began working through feelings of his own father’s death almost 30 years ago.
“It brought some healing to me,” Williams said. “One of the great things about (being a Buddy) is you also model some of the things the kids are feeling and going through, because most of us had lost someone. I brought a picture of my dad with me, so it wasn’t one-sided. We (the adult Buddies) shared as well.”
Camp Agape staff and volunteers know kids can’t work through their grieving in four days. But the campers can take the tools they learn through the group sessions back home and use them throughout their youth and even into adulthood. Bereavement is a process.
Since his experience at camp last year as a Buddy, Williams has helped with the Camp Agape Memorial Run and Kids’ Walk as well as joined the advisory board. He also knows not everyone may feel comfortable volunteering as a Buddy but pointed out that Camp Agape can use volunteers in other ways.
Those opportunities include registering campers, greeting them and their families, taking photos during the four days, assisting with fundraising throughout the year, helping with the fun run, or volunteering in other ways. People can even donate to the camp’s wish list.
“Not everyone feels they can be a Buddy, but there’s something else you can help with,” Williams added.
If someone is interested in becoming a Buddy, they can apply though the camp’s website.
“You get to go there the day before camp starts for training,” Williams said. “But then, once camp starts, you’re going to be busy. It’s worth it, though.”
Families can also register eligible children through the camp’s website.
If you have any questions, contact Camp Agape Executive Director Christen McVaney.