KINGSTON TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – Dealing with grief is difficult for anyone but especially for children. It’s why an educational dairy farm in northeastern Pennsylvania started a camp for grieving kids to heal. Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Hiller shows us how the camp which originated in 2014 is changing lives.
The Lands at Hillside Farms helps teach a lot of lessons. This week, more than a dozen kids are there learning how to cope with their personal grief. “He passed October 1,” said 12-year-old Ryan Long. The Boca Raton, Florida boy and his siblings Sarah, Jessica and Tommy are mourning the death of a brother. Visiting The Lands allows them to interact with other kids who’ve suffered a similar loss or life-changing ordeal. “It helps because I have somebody to talk to and it helps because I get to deal with the animals and stuff,” he said.
Lindsey Sutton is Director of Education at The Lands at Hillside Farms. “This is a safe and comfortable experience for most of our kids. They can talk to animals. Animals aren’t going to tell your secrets. Animals aren’t going to make fun of you,” she said.
Mac the horse is the only certified therapy animal currently at The Lands at Hillside Farms but each of these animals whether donkeys or goats or sheep provide in their own way a therapeutic benefit. Ms. Sutton said, “They love unconditionally. They’ll listen to anything you tell them.”
14-year-old grief camp volunteer Gabby Novak was a camper last year. That’s when she moved to northeastern Pennsylvania after being adopted from a central Asia orphanage. Her camp experience has been transformational. “(It) just makes me happy because if I can’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of nobody else around me,” she said.
The interaction with animals and other kids may only be measured in days, but the campers are also taught coping and communication strategies; skills that may last them long after camp becomes a distant memory.
This week’s grief camp at The Lands at Hillside Farms ends on Friday. It’s when campers will plant a memorial garden behind the greenhouse and do a butterfly release. Two more grief camps at The Lands are scheduled this summer.