After Camp TAG's 25th anniversary, no one could have predicted the changes that have happened. Comfort Care Hospice bought Northcrest Hospice's certificate of need in April. What would become of Camp TAG (Teaching about Grief), a camp dedicated to helping young people heal from their significant losses?"
Judy Suter, now director of Comfort Care Hospice and Camp TAG had lost her husband Mike to throat cancer on Oct. 13, 2018. Would she and our community also watch this unique camp die after 25 years of service? Some corporate entities can be cold, calculating and not interested in cooperating with each other.
This is not the culture of Northcrest or Comfort Care. They should be thanked for putting the needs of hurting children and hospice patients of Middle Tennessee first. Together they found a way for Camp TAG to continue. NorthCrest Medical Center and their foundation continued their financial support. Comfort Care allowed their employees from Alabama and Tennessee to come work in the camp as counselors, teachers and helpers.
When campers got off the Grayline Bus on Thursday afternoon, they were welcomed by the camp staff. They were also greeted with Comfort Care backpacks filled with helpful camp gear such as beach towels, snacks, comfort coloring books, cool rag, misters, etc.
This year's theme was "Grief: Our Mission is not Impossible." It played off the "Mission Impossible TV program and the movies by the same name. Michelle and Megan Suter designed the backdrop that emphasized secret agents, the tools of his trade and personal characteristics needed to accomplish the mission. They also planned and executed a number of suitable activities like the Amazing Race.
It is amazing what grief and loss these 7 to 14-year-old campers have already encountered in life. Tragedy like murder, suicide, death by car or work accident, cancer, divorce, drug overdose and incarceration of parents brought some to camp. Deaths of grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings brought others. Illnesses from sickle cell, brain aneurysms, to heart attacks and strokes have all invaded these children's families.
Our mission during the Thursday to Sunday camp was to help campers assist one another in their grief journey to transform raw grief into healthy grief. Classes, team building activities, fishing, crafts, music, meditation, play and relaxation techniques were used to help campers accomplish their mission.
Lisa Teal, chief operating officer of Comfort Care of Middle Tennessee, was counselor to the 11-year-old girls along with Angela Bush and Kris Freeman of Comfort Care. Those who came the greatest distance were two Comfort Care social workers from the Mobile branch. Rachel Gaut and Ellen Young traveled 500 miles to be cabin leaders for 9 and 10-year-old girls. Carla Ingle and Amanda Banta were cabin leaders for the teens.
Also, representing Comfort Care was Chief Financial Officer Bill Harris and Craig Greer, technology specialist. They served as counselors and provided plenty of entertainment in beauty contests with Tristan Bagwell and Joe Gordon. Joe, Craig and local Comfort Care liaison Luke teamed up to play their guitars and sing for the camper's on Saturday morning.
Joey Greer, Jesse Thompson, Braydn Wooten and Peyton Hardway directed fishing and archery activities. Many counselors like Jonathan Barrow attended Camp TAG as a child and now serve as counselors. He and his friend Steven Jarrell were cabin leaders.
Sierra Capps and Christina Grant counseled the youngest girls with help from Audrey Grant. Joe Radoski and Joe Rushing were counselors for the youngest boys. Tristan Bagwell was counselor to the 9 and 10-year-old boys.
Judy Suter, Jenny Greer and Jane Simpson kept their 26 year streak alive of never missing Camp TAG. Jenny crochets the blankets for the squeeze bears in memory of her mother Louise "The Squeeze" Hardin. Jane and Tom Simpson led crafts again this year. White lunch boxes were decorated and changed into Memory Boxes that campers can use to put their most treasured pictures and objects that remind them of loved ones. Betty Demonbreun and Tabitha Brewster kept the canteen running smoothly. The Camp nurse was Julie Grant.
Special thanks to Camp Cumberland Director Stan Corker and his wife Pam. They are always were wonderful hosts and put some great meals on the table. Susan White of Winner's Choice volunteered to make up and donate this year's award trophies for Camp TAG. Winner's Choice once again was the source for Camp TAG t-shirts.
Camp TAG is a microcosm of the world. Each year it shows death does not discriminate. Death cuts across all ages, races, religions, and social classes. Grief arouses so many complex emotions within us like hurt, sadness, anxiety, fear, shame and guilt. Camp TAG tries to teach campers to process their feelings. Every feeling has positive and negative side. The key is to move from feelings that can impair us to feelings that can benefit us.
Judy, Megan and Michelle Suter are the key leaders who give our community a great gift each year in Camp TAG. Emily Suter did an outstanding job as a caregiver to her father and kept the home fires burning. She was able to attend once again this year.
The Suters have assisted and helped many young people through their grief. No doubt this was their hardest camp because they are in the first year of life without Mike, who passed away Oct. 13. Grief can be selfish and focus the spotlight on what we have lost. The Suters are choosing to heal from their loss through the giving of themselves to others. We love and appreciate them for it.
Lisa Teal reflected at the end of camp, "I came thinking I could have an impact on some camper's life. I'm leaving thinking what an impact they had on my life. I found the girl's in our cabin to be so talented and gifted. We had such a good time. I'm taking home a big smile because the little things we do for each other can make such a difference."
When she was asked about the future of Camp TAG in 2020 she was optimistic. "I would like see this Camp TAG and NorthCrest partnership continue. Comfort Care Hospice of Middle Tennessee would be open to partnering with NorthCrest and its Foundation to see Camp TAG keep helping grieving children and families in our community."
Adele Watts, Director of NorthCrest Foundation was thankful for the cooperation that made Camp TAG happen this year and believes Camp TAG's future is bright.
Joe D. Rushing, is a local chaplain and minister who attended his 4th Camp TAG.