By Rebecca Rose

Killeen Daily Herald

Kaiyah Mathis sat at a table in the Hilltop Complex at Parrie Haynes Ranch on Thursday, playing one of her favorite games, Jenga.

Kaiyah was one of 48 children from across Texas gathered at the Camp Erin/Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Grief Camp, a three-day camp at the Killeen ranch.

Between Jenga moves, Kaiyah shared one of her favorite memories about her father.

"We went skating for my little brother's birthday," she said. "My dad went, too."

"He was skating like an old man," she added, laughing.

Bernette Mathis died May 24, 2010, in Round Rock. Kaiyah was in the first grade.

TAPS Grief Camp is for children grieving the loss of a parent or sibling who served in the Armed Forces. Camp Erin is the largest nationwide network of bereavement camps for children and teens ages 6-17. The camp at Parrie Haynes Ranch this week was funded through a partnership with the USO and the Moyer Foundation, which runs Camp Erin.

The three-day, two-night camp was filled with traditional camp activities combined with grief education and emotional support.

Campers were partnered with mentors with whom they worked closely during the week. Every mentor who volunteers at the camp is either active-duty military or recently retired, said Sherri Beck, TAPS program representative,

"The mentors are all primarily from Fort Hood," Beck said. "We put out the information about the camp to all the different units who had participated in different events with us before."

Tina Saari, director for regional programs with TAPS at Fort Hood, said the camp served as a safe place for participants to express themselves.

"They all have something in common," she said. "They all have lost a special loved one ... in the military."

The camp is a way to let young survivors know they are not alone, Saari said.

"TAPS is a way for (families) to get together, and find that sense of belonging again, and know that the military has not forgotten about them."

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