Woman who lost father as a child helps kids heal after similar loss

CHICAGO— A woman whose father died when she was just 11 years old now helps other children who lost a parent begin their healing process, in a unique and artful way.

Nailah Cartman said it is very difficult for her to express her emotions, thoughts and feelings about her father's death.

He drowned in 2005. It was her first time experiencing a close death in her family.

She said she was grief stricken and confused from the traumatic event, but her school counselor suggested she attended the 'Hearts to Art' summer camp. It was a two-week program designed specifically for children who had lost a parent.

"I didn't know what the camp really was, I’m like are we just gonna sit around and talk about the death of a parent all day?" Cartman said.

Chicago's Auditorium Theater runs the 'Hearts to Art' camp which focuses on healing through the arts. The children express their creativity through theater, dance and music.

Cartman said the therapeutic experience put her on a path to healing, but also inspired her to give back.

She has worked with the 'Hearts to Art' program for the last 10 years— first as a junior counselor, now as the camp coordinator.

Camille Brooks, a returning camper, found it comforting to have a counselor who has walked in your shoes.

"It makes me feel like I have a connection with them and they can feel empathy for what I feel 'cause they feel how it is," Brooks said,

The camp integrates art and healing throughout each day. The campers participate in meditative and healing sessions guided by professional counselors. The campers said being surrounded by others who have shared a similar experience can also put their mind at ease.

Although everyone at the camp has suffered a loss, much of the time is spent honing in their performance skills which they showcase at the end of camp.

Cartman said this year's theme is 'Becoming', which gives campers a way of thinking about who they are now and who they want to become in the future.

She said healing takes place every day, but her biggest joy is giving back to the kids that are just like she is.

"Their resilience over the past two weeks, you really get to see them blossom into a new person almost, exploring these different art forms," Cartman said.

To learn more about this program, you can visit their website.

Nailah Cartman is one of Chicago's Very Own.

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