MARQUETTE - One of the goals of the Upper Peninsula Children's Bereavement Network is to help grieving children realize they are not alone, and that in life, there is hope.
Samantha Collins, volunteer and outreach coordinator for Lake Superior Hospice in Marquette, is one of a handful of Marquette County residents involved in the UPCBN, which offers resources and support to children and families who experienced a loss through death.
"We realized there is a need in the community, and the Upper Peninsula as a whole, for some kind of network or hub for people to come and find out who the bereavement coordinators are in their area," Collins said. "We're hoping when people hear about the organization, other counties can start adopting programs, too."
Collins said the UPCBN formed in the fall of 2011 and its first planned activity is a week-long bereavement camp for children ages 8 to 16. Set for Aug. 10 to 12, Camp Star will be held at Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay and it's open to all U.P. children.
Collins said Camp Star combines fun activities with grief education and emotional support in a relaxed and safe setting for youngsters to explore their feelings.
Activities include rope climbing, camp fires, horseback riding, kayaking, memory making, hiking and memorial services, to name a few.
"Because we are so new, we're focused on getting information out there about who we are and we're letting people know about the Camp Star event," she said. "We hope that this organization or network will be a catalyst for resources in the area that individuals seeking help for children, who have lost a loved one, can go to and find more information."
Collins said the UPCBN has connected with various organizations across the U.P. like the Community Coalition on Grief and Bereavement, which serves Houghton, Keweenaw, Baraga and Ontonagon counties.
Camp Star is an example of the kinds of resources the UPCBN will be offering, Collins said, and although the organization is Marquette County based, she's encouraging volunteers from other counties to get involved.
"We're looking to expand that," she said. "If anybody has an interest in applying to be on the board of directors and serve different parts of the U.P., we'd love to have them look into it."
In addition to a board of directors, made up of civic leaders, retired teachers, doctors, social workers and business professionals, the UPCBN has a planning committee of about 20 members.
Volunteer applications can be found on the UPCBN's Camp Star website at upcampstar.org. Applicants are required to undergo a screening process and background check, Collins said, and if they're accepted, they would attend a training program.
Collins said the person who spearheaded the UPCBN and Camp Star activity was Lake Superior Hospice Medical Director Larry Skendzel.
"He took on the idea and explored further to what kinds of organizations were out there, nationally and in Michigan, that offer camps for kids," she said. "From there he worked with me and a couple others to form the 501(c)(3)."
Camp Star is modeled after Gaylord, Mich.-based Camp Live, Laugh, Love, she said.
"They came up less than a year ago and worked with us to understand how a camp would run," she said. "Then they left us with materials to get started."
Collins said dealing with a loss can be challenging for children, especially if the parents themselves are grieving. In some cases, she said, children may feel pushed aside, which is why the UPCBN is helping to raise awareness.
"We're trying to bring attention to the fact that everyone grieves differently and we're trying to find ways to help them," Collins said. "We can send packets of information out or we can help get in touch with school counselors, therapists, someone like that."
Collins said the UPCBN operates primarily on donations made by individuals and organizations.
If anyone is interested in making a donation to Camp Star or the network, checks can be made to the UPCBN and mailed to Sarah Harnett, 580 West College Ave., Marquette, MI, 49855.
For more information, call Harnett, certified life specialist for Marquette General Hospital, at 906-225-3081 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For online information, visit upcampstar.org or facebook.com/UPCAMPSTAR.