NEIHART — Kathy Van Tighem is the recipient of the 2023 Paris Gibson Award. Since she became rooted as a professional in the Great Falls area, Van Tighem has involved herself in a number of committees and community service groups, including, Peace Hospice of Montana, Compulsive Eaters Support Group, Great Falls Pre-Release Center, and many more.
“I was completely shocked when I received a phone call saying that I was the recipient of the Paris Gibson Award,” says Van Tighem.
Included in her laundry list of accomplishments and services, is a one-week camp nestled in the Lewis & Clark National Forest. Named ‘Camp Francis’, the camp celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. The camp serves as grief counseling, consoling children aged 6-12 years, who have recently lost a family member. The space provides support and coping mechanisms in a mutually inclusive environment.
“Kids really have an innate need to want to talk about their grief. I always share with them that people ask all the time about the best days of their lives and they want to know about the good things and the happy times. But not a lot of people ask about the hardest times,” says Van Tighem.
Chris Southall, a clinical psychologist and who has served as a grief facilitator at Camp Francis for 24 years, has seen incredible growth by campers year after year in the short week-long timeframe.
“Even though they may be homesick, a lot of them don't want to leave. They want to have more days of camp. So this is a community of people coming together for a shared vision and a shared purpose that is so meaningful for all of us,” says Southall. “It's really helpful for the kids and it's incredibly valuable for the volunteers to.”
On the camp’s final day, kids were wrapped in personalized quilts for comfort and released balloons into the sky, many of them sharing a message to their dear relatives as they loosened their grip.
“The strength that I see in these younger kids is just...it's something that I've never seen before. And it's truly something that I don't see anywhere but up here,” says Cabin Leader and former camper Ellie McCluey.
As for Van Tighem, she’s proud to have overseen another successful year of camp, and is honored for her recent distinction.
“To whom much is given, much is expected. And when I think of all of the things that I've been given - a great family, a fabulous job, where I get to work with amazing people, volunteer opportunities to be involved with things like Camp Francis, everything that I have...I have more than I'm ever going to need.”
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