January 3, 2023

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

VSU MFT Students Serve Local Grief Support Program

Janiya Gibson

thumbnail_kiara-carson.jpgKiara Carson



VALDOSTA — Students from Valdosta State University’s Department of Marriage and Family Therapy recently partnered with Hospice of South Georgia for Camp Lean on Me, an annual event for community children who have experienced the loss of a loved one.

“We grieve because we love, and the journey of mourning the loss of a loved one is both painful and necessary,” shared Christen Cribbs, camp coordinator and licensed professional counselor. “Camp Lean on Me helps grieving children truly experience that they are not alone by providing a shared grief experience with same-aged peers. The impact that this two-day camp has on participants is beautiful to witness.

“Camp Lean on Me is provided at no cost to families in our community and is only possible with the help of volunteers. We thank VSU’s Marriage and Family Therapy students and faculty for dedicating their time and expertise to make this camp possible for children who mourn. There is no greater purpose than to take part in healing in the life of a child.”

Led by grief counselors and trained volunteers, Camp Lean on Me featured fun activities, support, education, and opportunities for participating children to bond with each other.

“When I heard of the opportunity to volunteer at Camp Lean on Me, I was very excited and knew that the experience would be rewarding and fulfilling,” said Janiya Gibson, a VSU student from Macon, Georgia, who served as a camp buddy. She anticipates earning her Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy from VSU in May 2024.

“As a future marriage and family therapist, I was able to work with a population that is dear to my heart, as I also lost a loved one as a child. Being able to have those conversations with the children and have them ask how I have continued to live happily and grow up with such a loss was meaningful. They saw themselves in me and I was able to share with them how I have continued to heal over the years. I plan to continue volunteering with the camp as it provides an opportunity for further connection and involvement with the Valdosta and South Georgia community.” 

Kiara Carson of Orangeburg, South Carolina, served as a counselor during Camp Lean on Me. She anticipates earning her Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy from VSU in May 2023.

“Many people experience grief, and with the help of Camp Lean on Me and VSU’s Department of Marriage and Family Therapy, I was able to interact with the community in an impactful way,” she said. “As a therapist, there is no greater service than helping others utilize the tools and resources that are necessary for navigating their mental and emotional wellness.”

VSU has partnered with Camp Lean on Me for more than a decade. Jessica Millican, who coordinates FamilyWorks, the university-based brief therapy clinic operated by the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy, described the annual camp as an opportunity for students to give back to the community and experience learning in action.  

“The Marriage and Family Therapy program is all about taking theory learned in the classroom and applying it practically,” she said. “Our students already get the unique experience of working in our one-of-a-kind FamilyWorks clinic, but by participating in community events like this camp, they are able to expand on the skills they are learning in class and at the clinic. Students were able to work alongside licensed professionals and put the knowledge they've learned in the classroom about grief therapy into practice.” 

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