Sunday, January 21, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 21, 2001

These kids are helping kids who grieve

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Morgan Fukumoto’s schedule is jam-packed with activities these days.

Girl Scouts Morgan Fukumoto, Kerin Uyeda and Melanie Leong are among the organizers of a camp for bereaved children.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

On top of Save the Earth meetings and Key Club functions at Punahou School, where she’s a sophomore, and spending time being just a teenager, Fukumoto has a big responsibility: Planning a camp for bereaved Hawai
i children.

It may be difficult to do, but Fukumoto, along with three other teens, are finding the experience invaluable. And they are relishing the idea of helping other youngsters.

"It’s much harder than I thought," said the 16-year-old, one of four senior Girl Scouts who are organizing Napuakamakaola, a camp for bereaved children ages 7 to 17. "I didn’t think it was going to be a piece of cake, but I see it’s a lot of work getting it all together."

Fukumoto, along with fellow scouts Melanie Leong, Kristen Eguchi and Kerin Uyeda, are taking on this challenge as part of the requirements for earning the Gold Award, the highest award given by the Girl Scouts.

They are responsible for all planning of the three-day camp at Girl Scout Camp Paumal¬ on the North Shore, which starts at the end of March. They have to coordinate it all - from recruiting volunteers and professionals to lead the sessions, to renting facilities, to sending out press releases - with only supportive help from an adult advisor.

"The great thing about this is it’s kids helping kids," said Kathy Duquette, a hospice nurse with Hospice Hawaii who is the advisor.

The purpose of the camp is two-fold: The project will meet the requirements for them to earn the Gold Award, an equivalent to Eagle Scout for Boy Scouts.

More importantly, the camp is an opportunity for children who have lost a loved one to work through and learn from their grief.


Camp for bereaved children ages 7 to 17

March 30 to April 1

Girl Scout Camp Paumalu on the North Shore

$20 (If the child is accepted for the camp and attends, they will be refunded the $20)

Call 841-7095 or e-mail by Jan. 30.

For children, grief may be disguised or repressed, making it difficult for parents to realize there’s a problem. Grief that is not addressed could lead to dysfunction later, Duquette said.

"Child bereavement is one of those issues that just kind of takes a back seat," she said. "Finally, we’re recognizing it."

The forgotten grievers’

The need for the camp is clear: One in five children in Hawaii experience a death of a loved one, Duquette said. That means more than 50,000 children here, at any given time, need help with bereavement.

"In many situations, the loss is compounded by other family issues," she said. Grief is a natural response to loss, Duquette said, but it is especially difficult to detect in youngsters.

"This is so traumatic for them, to lose someone they really love," said Duquette, whose son had a tough time dealing with the loss of his grandmother.

But kids react, and grieve, differently from adults.

"They’re really sad, then boom! They’re playing, almost like they’ve lost interest," she said. "People mistake that as being disrespectful or not caring, and that’s not true."

Many times adults are too busy dealing with their own grief to devote time and energy to helping their children heal appropriately, she added. This camp can serve that purpose.

"Kids are the forgotten grievers," Duquette said. "Younger kids tend to act out their grief, pushing or shoving or throwing tantrums at inappropriate times. They’ve got all these feelings and don’t know how to express them."

At the camp, the children learn techniques to deal with their grief, from art activities to daily journal-writing, to team-building games.

Last year, for example, the older kids wrote down all the things that bothered them on a huge, wall-size piece of paper. Words and phrases such as "anger," "drugs" and "I love you, Dad" were scrawled on the paper with water-based ink. The kids then taped the paper onto a cinder brick wall and threw water balloons at it, at everything that bothered them. The ink wept off.

"It was profound to watch this," raved Duquette.

Changing lives

This is the fourth bereavement camp assisted by Hospice Hawaii for children, the third organized by the Girl Scouts. While there are others similar to this camp on the Mainland, this has been the only one in the state. A former bereavement coordinator at Hospice Hawaii got the Girl Scouts involved.

In 1998, the first two senior scouts to organize the bereavement camp, Gina Yamane and Janis Yim, received national honors for their work; they earned one of just 10 of the Girl Scouts’ Young Women of Distinction Awards. But national recognition is not on the minds of this year’s camp organizers.

"I like the idea of the bereavement camp because it helps children, the ones who will lead our society in the future," said Uyeda, a 16-year-old junior at Roosevelt High School. "It also, in a way, pulls people out of the community into camp to form a big family for the weekend."

Helping others is what the Gold Award is about. But helping children deal with grief is not like the more typical paint-the-playground-equipment or clean-the-highway service projects. The camp can change a child’s life.

For the teens, the project is a culmination of their years with the Girl Scouts. It’s this community service aspect of the Girl Scouts that has kept them teenagers coming back.

"At first I joined because it was fun," said Fukumoto, who has been a Girl Scout for about 10 years. "But I stayed with it because I like the aspect of helping others. I really enjoy it, giving back to others.

A life lesson

She, along with her fellow senior scouts, participates in community service-related activities at school. This Gold Award is important to all four, who have strived to attain this honor for years, even decades.

As much as this experience is helpful to the grieving children, the four teens are learning something, too.

Something about life.

"I haven’t experienced a death of someone especially close to me, and for that I’m thankful because I can’t imagine what my life would be like without my family," Uyeda said. "So I can’t really relate to everyone. But to see how strong they are and how much they have been through is very inspirational to me. I hope, if I ever lose a loved one through death, I can be as strong as them and get through whatever may come up."

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