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Nonprofit wants to expand ‘Camp Cope’ to help grieving kids

Following the death of her father in 2019, Kellee Carpenter found support from classmates who understood what she was going through.

Kellee, now a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Lied STEM Academy in Las Vegas, joined a “Camp Cope” group at her school offered by the local nonprofit Adam’s Place.

“You would just find more people who you could discuss your problems with and they would just understand,” she said.

Kellee said it helped talking with other children similar in age who were also grieving. “It made me feel not so alone.”

This month, the organization launched a new six-week virtual Camp Cope session and eight-week in-person sessions at Rancho High School and Red Rock Elementary School — the first regular in-person offerings since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nonprofit wants to expand Camp Cope by training more school counselors, social workers and nurses — as well as recruiting community volunteers — to facilitate groups held at school campuses.

Adam’s Place was founded in 2009 to help children and their families who are grieving a loss. Its free “Camp Cope” program provides weekly support group sessions for children ages 3-18, with virtual and in-person options.

Camp Cope sessions help children who’ve experienced grief or loss — someone who is missing from a family unit due to reasons such as death, incarceration or deployment.

“A lot of times, folks don’t even think about the children grieving,” Adam’s Place Founder and Executive Director Kelly Boyers said. “Their grief isn’t always recognized or validated.”

Camp Cope allows children to find peers who’ve had similar life-changing experiences, she said, noting it helps them feel less isolated.

Since transportation can be a barrier for children to participate in Camp Cope, the nonprofit is working with individual schools to provide onsite offerings. Also, Boyers said she believes people feel more comfortable participating in a group led by someone they have a trusted relationship with.

The nonprofit provides an approximately 10-hour training program that certifies school employees to run Camp Cope sessions.

It costs about $1,500 for Adam’s Place to train a facilitator. If a school can’t afford to pay that, the nonprofit will find a community sponsor.

“We will reach more children by training school personnel to run their own program,” Boyers said in a recent news release. “The pandemic has taken a physical and mental toll on many families and that need for social/emotional support is more critical than ever.”

Adam’s Place was created in memory of Boyers’ oldest son, 21-year-old Adam Thomas, who died in March 2007 as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash in Reno. He was a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Boyers was concerned about her 15-year-old son, who was grieving the loss of his only brother. She looked into what support was available for children.

She heard about The Solace Tree in Reno, a nonprofit grief support organization for children, teens and families. But she couldn’t find anything similar in Las Vegas.

With initial help from The Solace Tree, Adam’s Place was launched and now operates as its own organization.

“We were overwhelmed with interest and the need in the community since we’ve opened our doors,” Boyers said.

The nonprofit switched from in-person to virtual Camp Cope sessions when the Clark County School District transitioned to distance learning in March 2020, which lasted for about a year before at least some in-person classes resumed in spring 2021. Now, schools are operating with full-time, in-person classes.

‘We were not prepared’

For Kellee’s mother Linda Carpenter, she found Adam’s Place after her husband died suddenly. She and her daughter had no other family members in Las Vegas.

“We were not prepared for his death at all,” Carpenter said. “It was crazy, crazy.”

She said they felt totally lost, but people — including her daughter’s school counselor — stepped up and helped them connect with community resources.

Carpenter said Adam’s Place was a huge help.

“Adam’s Place for my daughter, I think, was the best thing ever because when you lose someone who is immediate family, it’s like you’re alone facing the world,” she said.

Camp Cope provides hands-on activities and coping skills, Carpenter said. “I think that’s very important for our children.”

And sometimes, she said, “family support is not enough.”

Carpenter and her daughter still stay connected with Adam’s Place and are invited to attend organization events. “They never lose touch with us.”

She said some people feel ashamed asking for help or feel weak if they’re struggling, but she encourages other families in need to reach out to Adam’s Place.

“Without this,” she said, “I really don’t know where I would be today.”

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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