Interview with Sue Repa

About her tenure as Camp Keaton Director since 2016, and as she pass the baton to Cara Grosset, Director Psychosocial, Grief and Bereavement Care

Share a highlight during your time as Director of Camp Keaton?
Being the Camp Director for Camp Keaton has been one of the most fulfilling roles of my professional career. I loved camp as a child, but nothing could prepare me for the profound impact it has had on me as Camp Director. You are never the same after attending camp. There are so many aspects of camp that will stay with me. The incredible courage and vulnerability of the children as they introduced us to their deceased loved one on Friday Night Memorial Wall will live forever in my heart. We have so many wonderful Grief Activity Facilitators and grief-related activities to promote healing. Vanessa Henry, from the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, teaches the campers how to make dream catchers. The story of the dream catcher is that you hang it at the head of your bed and the bad dreams would be caught in the webbing while the good dreams passed through. One camper whose father had died by suicide was unable to sleep because he had bad dreams. He worked for 2 sessions with Vanessa to make his dream catcher perfect. Once completed, he immediately put it on the leg of his bunk. The next morning, he told his cabin big buddy that he needed to find me. When he saw me, he excitedly reported that he had slept through the night with no bad dreams. This is just one of many stories. The compassion of the team and dedication to the children and youth is incredible.

What drew you to Camp Keaton?
Clare Freeman, former CEO of Kemp Care Network, whom I had previously worked with facilitating Anger Management Groups, contacted me and asked me to be Camp Director. Once Clare explained what camp was about, I immediately accepted the post. The unique combination of bereavement support with the traditional fun and growth experiences of summer camp. I was deeply touched by the idea of helping children and teens navigate their grief journey in an environment filled with warmth, understanding, and camaraderie. It resonated with my belief in the transformative power of community support during times of loss.

What surprised you the most about the experience?
One aspect that surprised me the most was the resilience and openness of the campers. Despite the depth of their loss, these young individuals possess an incredible capacity for empathy, growth, and joy. Witnessing their ability to 

form bonds, share their stories, and support each other, often in just a few days, has been nothing short of inspiring. It’s a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the importance of our work.

What drives your passion for the mission and vision of Camp Keaton, and how has that influenced your leadership?
My passion for the mission and vision of Camp Keaton is driven by the belief that every child deserves the opportunity to grieve in a supportive, understanding environment. This conviction has deeply influenced my leadership approach, emphasizing compassion, inclusivity, and empowerment. I strive to ensure that every aspect of the camp experience is rooted in these values, creating a safe space for our campers to explore their grief, build resilience, and understand that they are not alone.

Could you describe a particularly memorable moment or success story that stands out to you from your time as Director?
A particularly memorable moment that stands out for me was a 14-year-old boy whose father died of an aortic dissection. This young man and his father had argued the night prior to his father’s death. The young man was certain that he had caused his father to die and felt the guilt, shame, and weight of that. At camp we have an Ask the Professional session where the campers can ask a doctor anything. This young man would not submit a question, so I submitted it on his behalf. The doctor read, “Can an argument cause someone to have an aortic dissection?” The doctor explained the cause of an aortic dissection and that there was NO WAY that an argument could cause this to occur. The young man put his head on the table and cried. You could see the relief on his face and in his eyes. This taught me an important lesson about communication. In the absence of communication and information children fill in the gaps. The information could be accurate or not, they just needed to fill the gap. It’s important to be honest and provide as much accurate information as the child wants to hear. Let them lead.

Every story of healing and connection at Camp Keaton reinforces our commitment to supporting grieving children and teenagers. It has been a profound honour to be a part of their journey. I am continually inspired by the strength and resilience of our campers and the dedication of our incredible team.” – Sue

What is Camp Keaton?

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