In the community

Ontario’s Camp Zoe helps children cope with grief

ONTARIO — With 1 in 12 children estimated to lose a parent or a sibling by 18 in the U.S., researchers have dubbed them the “silent grievers” because childhood grief in America is often overlooked.

Providing support for these children in Malheur County is the inspiration for Camp Zoe, a free grief camp for kids Saturday, June 10, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at St. Paul Lutheran Church at 842 Alameda Dr. in Ontario. Pre-registration is required.

Those interested can register online, call 208-230-0164, or email campzoegriefcamp@

According to organizer Sharla Phelps, a longtime social worker and grief counselor, grief is the “normal reaction to the loss of any kind in life.”

At Camp Zoe, in its second year, the focus is grief related to losing a loved one. Last year Phelps and partner Tamra Kay started the camp with Treasure Valley Children’s Relief Nursery of Ontario.

Phelps said grief can result from the death of a loved one, even if the loss is not recent.

Phelps noted pre-registration is required. She said she likes to have conversations with the parents and kids ahead of time and let them know what to expect and that they are coming to a camp for grief and not “just going somewhere for the day.”

Phelps said ahead of the day-long camp, the event will kick off Friday, June 9, with a pizza night at St. Paul Lutheran Church from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Phelps said she will advise parents about how they can help their children through the grief process based on age and grade level. Meanwhile, the children will meet with their group leaders and break out into groups based on age.

Phelps said on Saturday, the kids have activities and exercises focusing on talking about their feelings and learning to cope. At the end, she said parents join their children for a family activity that focuses on what the children learned and how parents can help them apply those skills.

Phelps said children will continue to experience loss as they grow into adulthood. The idea, she said, is to give kids the coping skills to navigate through grief.
“For us adults,” she said, “it’s very important to have a set of tools in your tool belt.”

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