SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
More than 25 Schriever members gathered during a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors event at Cheyenne Mountain Resort April 1-2, as part of the Month of the Military Child which is held in April.
The Good Grief Camp program, a two-day event, paired children who lost family members with mentors to establish communication, maintain a military connection and to let them understand they are not alone.
Wearing buttons with photos of fallen loved ones, more than 70 military children interacted with members from several bases including Schriever Air Force Base, Peterson Air Force Base, Fort Carson and Air Force Academy.
TAPS provides programs to support families who are grieving the death of a loved one who served in the Armed Forces. Retired Maj. Bonnie Carroll created the organization after losing her husband in a plane crash in 1992.
“At the time, there was no organization for losing a military member in the family,” said Tech. Sgt. Teri Cervenak, 50th Security Forces Squadron flight sergeant. “Now, families have somewhere where they can grieve and talk to other military members who understand what they’re going through. There were grieving sessions throughout the entire weekend for parents, children and spouses.”
The first day of the program consisted of training for all the mentors who volunteered.
“The TAPS staff was very helpful,” said Staff Sgt. Ashlee Wheeler, 50 SFS Operations NCO. “If we were in a situation where we did not know what to say or do, they helped us out along the way and taught us the best approaches.”
After participating in a variety of activities and a trip to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the kids chose who their mentors would be for the remainder of the weekend.
Wheeler said the children were initially quiet and somewhat withdrawn, but by the end of the first day, many of them interacted with other mentees and the mentors.
“The little girl I mentored is 6-years-old,” said Cervenak. “She never shared anything about her father, but within the first day she talked to me about him. She never shared anything in a group setting, but on Sunday she did that for the first time ever, while pointing to the picture she drew of her dad. The group leader said that was a huge step for her. It was a blessing to be a part of that.”
Many times, connections made with mentees last beyond the camps and events.
“The girl I spent time with was closed off at first, but after a trip to the zoo and activities such as trust falls and an obstacle course, she became attached to me,” said Airman 1st Class Marissa Pederson, 50 SFS entry controller. “She began to share more information about her dad and family members. She and her mom both asked if I would like to visit her on weekends. I really want to be there for her after this program so I can continue to support her during her sporting events and important milestones.”
Wheeler said she thought one of the most important parts of the weekend was during the second day.
“We did an activity which involved the kids taking turns sitting in the middle of a parachute,” she said. “We all walked around and told them we loved and supported them. It was an important reminder that even though their family member wasn’t here anymore, they are a part of the service and will always remain in the military family.”
Mentors and counselors are always available through TAPS whenever there is a death of a loved one.
For more information on TAPS, or to become a volunteer, visit www.taps.org.