Giving grieving families an opportunity to retreat to serenity

By Kory Williams and Tara Zarm
Survivor Outreach Service Coordinators

For one weekend in September, Camp American Legion — about 17 miles north of Rhinelander on the shores of Big Carr Lake — became Camp Serenity, a retreat for the families of fallen service members.

Survivor Outreach Services wanted to provide a serene, calm environment for survivors to honor their service member, connect and bond with one another, grieve in a safe place with others who understand, and offer the tools to move forward. Families of the fallen from all service branches were invited, no matter the cause of death.

Camp Serenity workshops included an art therapist from Edgewood College, who brought a few of her students to do projects with adults and children; peer counseling; yoga; financial education opportunities; and a sleep seminar. Recreation opportunities included fishing, pontoon boats and campfires — complete with s’mores.

Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, and Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, spoke with several families at Camp Serenity. The Wisconsin National Guard’s Service Member Support Division team assisting at Camp Serenity was really moved by the weekend.

  • “Thank you for asking me to be a part of something so special,” said Nan Gardner, Military Family Life Consultant.
  • “Since beginning this work, I have always felt that it is a privilege and an honor to work with these families — and, of course for me, the children,” said Ruth Price, child and youth Military Family Life Consultant.
  • “This weekend was by far the most humbling experience of my career,” said Tina Jeffords, Child and Youth coordinator. “Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it.”

Family members who attended this first event hosted by Survivor Outreach Services indicated that Camp Serenity met a real need. Comments include:

  • “It was extremely beneficial for my son to meet others going through the same thing, and he had a blast just being in the woods.”
  • “It was nice to come to a place where others share your grief.”
  • My journey has been very rough. This is the first event I attended and I’m very grateful for this. I have learned a lot and truly do not feel so alone. I hope that this continues.”

As Survivor Outreach Services coordinators, we are there for families of the fallen when they are most vulnerable, when issues arise and they need assistance, or when they just need to talk. It is an honor to serve these families.

If you were at Camp Serenity this year, was your experience helpful?