RU Students Serve the Grieving at Healing Workshop

Student volunteers from Radford University are giving people permission to smile again.

That’s how Lynne Taylor, an assistant professor in RU’s School of Social Work, describes the outreach of her first-year graduate students. In recent years these students have assisted with counseling individuals, many of whom are children, at a healing workshop in Cedar Mountain, N.C.

Twice a year, the YMCA of Greenville, S.C., offers the Healing Challenge for children and families who have lost loved ones in the previous year. Days before Thanksgiving this year, four Radford University students volunteered as grief counselors for about 30 people.

“A lot of the camp participants feel like people expect them to be sad all the time,” Taylor said. “And that’s one of the things we do. We tell them it’s okay to be happy at times and to try new things.”

The workshop, which began nine years ago with Taylor’s help, initially opened for children only, but as more families inquired about the camp, YMCA officials opened it to everyone.

The most recent camp ran Friday through Sunday. Each day offered intensive group discussions in which the campers talked with Taylor and RU student volunteers Shane Fletcher, Martina Ngure, Sherry Scott and Holly Vieth about loss, grief and how losing a loved one changes the lives of the survivors.

“You have to find a new normal because you can never go back to how things used to be,” Taylor said of the grieving process. “You have to work toward what will be your new normal.”

Ngure, who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Radford University, was one of the students volunteering at the YMCA camp.

Ngure said her goal before arriving at the camp was to provide assistance in any area needed, and the Princeton, W.Va., native found herself doing just that. She played the role of “facilitator, peacemaker, listener, monitor, creative thinker, entertainer, ice breaker, mingler and overall friendly presence,” she said.

Taylor explained that the healing workshop isn’t just about counseling sessions. The campers and counselors, too, make use of the YMCA camp facilities through square dancing, climbing a rock wall, hiking to the waterfall and gliding across Lake Rotary on a zip line—there’s a lot of screaming involved, Taylor said.

The activities provide much-needed fun for the campers, and they have a healing function. “This activity helps because it’s a little bit of a risk,” Taylor said. It proves to a person that “I can still do something new even though I’ve had this big loss in my life.’”

For the student volunteers, the healing workshop is often an intense life-altering experience, Taylor said. “A lot of the students have not been exposed to that really raw kind of grief and pain,” the professor said. “But at the workshop, they have a chance to be part of that group and help those people work through their pain and bring out some much-needed smiles.”

Jan 17, 2012
Chad Osborne
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