SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
Service members from Schriever Air Force Base and other military installations around Colorado Springs volunteered as mentors at a National Suicide Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp Oct. 10 - 11, 2015, at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The camp was hosted and sponsored by Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a not-for-profit organization that has held grief counseling camps across the nation for more than a decade.
According to their website, http://www.taps.org/about
, "The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors offers compassionate care to all those grieving the death of a loved one serving in our Armed Forces. Since 1994, TAPS has provided comfort and hope 24 hours a day, seven days a week through a national peer support network and connection to grief resources, all at no cost to surviving families and loved ones."
TAPS is a national organization that was started to help family members in the grieving process. Bonnie Carroll, TAPS president and founder, was the wife of Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, who passed away in an Army C-12 plane crash in 1992. Following his death, she was unsatisfied with the resources available to assist those in her same situation.
TAPS became a way for families to get together for counseling and support through the loss of a loved one in the armed forces. Master Sgt. Steven Grant, 50th Space Communications Squadron section chief of network infrastructure, attended the event for the second year in a row.
Grant explained why supporting children at the Good Grief Camps is so important.
"The kids experience not only a loss in their family, but they also experience a kind of identity crisis, because they're no longer military affiliated," explained Grant. "What TAPS gives them is an opportunity to get with other kids in their same position, open up to some of the grieving process and by tying in military members, it kind of gives them [back] that connection to their loved one."
At the beginning of the weekend-long camp, parents and adult family members dropped off their children with the mentors before heading to their own peer counseling activities. The early portions of the activities were in a very relaxed social environment. Kids in attendance were not forced to interact, but instead given freedom to talk/play with their mentors as they felt comfortable.
"We went over each child's information sheet prior to the actual event and mine said she was very shy," said Staff Sgt. Taylor Koch, 50th Space Wing administrative assistant and Good Grief Camp mentor. "I was thankful to know what to anticipate. She took about 10 minutes to warm up but once she did she didn't leave my side."
Throughout the weekend, kids attending the camp participated in activities and games ranging from sports, to crafts, to music.
"They actually had an excellent musician come in, we made a drum and he talked about the language of music," said Grant. "The kids were able to beat the drum and have an outlet to express their frustrations and their feelings through music so it was an excellent program."
Koch explained that volunteering for the program is not for everyone, but is a rewarding opportunity.
"We heard four and five-year-olds talk about some pretty heavy things," she said. "But just knowing you've made an impact like we did is so overwhelming and rewarding. I would highly recommend anyone who is interested to get involved."
Grant explained there was a diverse group of youth in attendance, some who were comfortable and some who needed more time to open up. For most of the children however, he said he could definitely see a positive change in their demeanors by the end of the camp.
The impact of volunteering is even more powerful as a parent, Grant shared.
"Being a father of three, it really got me to think about what would happen if I were to pass away, you know, I would want someone to be there for my children," said Grant.