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Schriever Airmen mentor Gold Star children

Senior Airman Arielle Vasquez

Members from Front Range installations gather at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Good Grief Camp at Denver, Colorado, Sept. 9, 2018. The TAPS Good Grief Camp is a program for children who lost a loved one who served in the Armed Forces. It provides a safe space for military children to explore grief and embrace healing. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Senior Airman Arielle Vasquez

A Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Good Grief Camp collage of fallen service members is shown at Denver, Colorado, Sept. 9, 2018. Each child was paired with an active duty service member, retiree or veteran who served as a military mentor. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Senior Airman Arielle Vasquez

Children who attended the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Good Grief Camp write notes to their loved ones who died in service at Denver, Colorado, Sept. 9, 2018. During the weekend, children shared and learned coping skills through games, crafts and other activities in a fun and supportive environment. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Ten Schriever members volunteered as mentors at a Good Grief Camp event in Denver, Colorado, Sept. 8 – 9.

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors sponsored the two-day event, pairing mentors with children who lost family members to provide support, establish communication and maintain a military connection.

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.

“Good Grief Camps are held all over the country throughout the year,” said Capt. Nathaniel Lee, plans flight commander with the 527th Space Aggressors Squadron. “During the camp, all of the kids are broken up by age group and then paired with a mentor. Mentors can be military retirees, veterans and service members currently serving. The purpose is to hold different activities, crafts and events to remember, honor, and memorialize their loved ones.”

Lee lost his father, who was an U.S. Army aviator, in 1997 to an aviation accident.

“I was a TAPS kid after my dad passed away,” he said. “When I got older, I decided I wanted to come back as a military mentor. Overall, I have attended Good Grief Camps on and off for the past 20 years.”

Airman Kalissa Vue, career development journeyman with the 50th Force Support Squadron, said this was her first time attending a Good Grief Camp.

“Since I had never attended a Good Grief Camp before, I was super nervous of how my interactions with the kids would be,” she said. “I worked with 6 – 10 year olds. When I met the kids and we started doing activities, everything went smoothly and I could see they were opening up and sharing their thoughts with us mentors.

“My favorite part of the experience was building a connection with my mentee,” she continued. “She lost her dad when she was a baby, so she didn’t remember anything about him, but she expressed to me she wished he was here. From the start, she was open and excited to do everything we had planned. It was a wonderful experience to be able to mentor her and I am looking forward to meeting with her and her mom for future events.”

Lee explained why supporting children at Good Grief Camps is important.

“Some of the kids lost their loved ones recently, while others were younger when they passed,” he said. “There’s a whole patchwork of different stories and grief journeys. Having the one-on-one mentor and mentee pairing is so critical because it really enables that mentor to tailor the experience to the kid. Every kid and how they express their emotions is different, but their emotional maturity and growth just blows me away every time.”

Lee and Vue both plan to continue attending Good Grief Camps in the future.

“The time we spent there flew by,” Vue said. “The next time I go to a Good Grief Camp, I want it to last longer so I can continue building bonds with the kids. Especially since I had such an amazing experience, I am planning to attend another one in Seattle, Washington next year.”

Lee explained while volunteering for the program may not be for everyone, it is a rewarding opportunity for all those involved.

“All that is required for you to be a successful mentor is to be present for the kids. Children will let someone know what they need from you whether it’s someone to talk to, listen or play. They will give you all that information – you just need to be present in the moment for them and show support. The experience is not only therapeutic for the mentee, but for the mentors as well just to have the opportunity to hear stories and make those special connections.”

For more information on Good Grief Camp, visit https://www.taps.org/national/2018/goodgriefcamp.
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