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Harris' Heroes: 'TAPS grief camp' helps kids cope with loss of parent in military service

Mentor interacts with kids at TAPS grief camp, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. (ABC7 photo)

You wouldn't expect to find former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, singing to 500 youngsters over Memorial Day weekend. The children, some as young as three, are grieving the death of a loved one serving in the U.S. military, and they've come together for the annual Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) Good Grief Camp in Washington, D.C.

"What TAPS does is give these children new memories, new memories that are all positive," says Gen. Dempsey.

Bonnie Carroll founded TAPS , in 1994 shortly after the death of her husband in an Army aviation crash. At the heart of the TAPS mission is survivors helping survivors heal. The camp connects children to other peers who've lost a parent.

"What we help the kids do is redefine that relationship," says Carroll.

Children are paired one-on-one with a military mentor, someone to bond with who can help them on their grief journey.

Brooke Nyren of Reston, Virginia, was eight when her father died in Iraq, when she first came to camp. Now she's a mentor due mainly to the close bonds she built with her mentor.

"We're now like sisters," says Nyren with tears in her eyes. "She's my best friend."

Destini Yarden, Brooke's mentor for the past nine years, also gets emotional in talking about their relationship.

"I can never tell her I know how she feels because I don't," Yarden explains. "I'm here to listen to her and help her through her journey."

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