Story and photo by Spc. Nathan Thome
4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office
As each child drew a picture or played a game, their mentor was right next to them, playing alongside them, ready to meet any of the child’s needs.
Soldiers assigned to units throughout Fort Carson volunteered to be mentors for children of fallen heroes, during the Army Community Service’s Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Seminar, at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, Nov. 1 to Sunday.
While adult attendees at the conference worked in their groups, mentors linked up with the children and went to separate group rooms during the seminar to work with them.
“As mentors, we talk with them, play with them and try to understand them; we try to make them feel comfortable and have a good time,” said Spc. Shulesia Dawson, intelligence analyst, Company A, 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
The group rooms held a variety of activities, including drawing, board games and share time.
“The atmosphere is always fun; it’s an ‘upper’ atmosphere because they’re always playing, coloring, having fun. They’re doing what they normally do, except we’re like big kids with them,” said Dawson.
The majority of the mentors for the children are Soldiers, which Dawson believes helps the children because they can relate.
“TAPS has been helping me,” said Angel Pansini, 16. “I came here when I was 12, and the first time was a little bit rough, and then, gradually, I began to meet new people and gain a little more confidence.”
Pansini said the most beneficial part of TAPS was hearing other survivors’ stories.
“I learned that a lot of people had regrets. My brother and I were close, and one of my biggest regrets was that when he died, I didn’t get to hug him,” she said. “I just said ‘I love you’ and left. I got to hear other people, and some of them regretted not even saying that. It’s nice to hear what other people feel.”
Through attending the seminar, Pansini said her understanding of death has grown.
“I feel like I’ve always been OK with death, and I feel like I’ve progressed, because I understand the significance of it more,” she said. “I feel like I can see the impact of how a person is connected to the one that they lost.”
Some Soldiers have been involved with the children they mentor for years, and can contact them any time under their guardians’ discretion.
The seminar takes place every year, as well as a regional conference. Soldiers interested in volunteering as a mentor can register through the TAPS website at http://www.taps.org.