The death of a loved one can be a difficult experience for those left behind and families are often enveloped in physical, emotional and financial upheaval. Parents and family members are dealing with their own grief and sometimes aren’t able to be emotionally present for their young ones. Or, they simply just don’t know how to help.
The Visiting Nurse Association has developed expertise since 1984 in providing grief support by providing bereavement follow up to families and friends who have lost loved ones cared for by hospice. Over the years, the VNA has seen a steady increase in requests for grief support for others in the community, especially for children. Valparaiso University recently conducted a community assessment in cooperation with the VNA, which revealed that in Porter County alone, more than 800 children might benefit from a children’s grief support program over the course of the last year.
In answer to the growing need, the VNA has developed a program to provide age appropriate support groups and activities such as art and music therapy, writings, recreation and memory projects to help children, teens and young adults from toddler to college age learn to cope with their grief. The children’s groups meet bi-weekly over an extended period of time, allowing the children to guide their own healing process.
The program requires that all children who participate be accompanied by an adult, either a parent, guardian or other adult family member. Group support and networking opportunities are provided for the adults, allowing them to also share feelings, emotions and ideas within a compassionate environment.
When the VNA moved to its new administrative building at 2401 Valley Drive in Valparaiso, the former building around the corner at 501 Marquette Street became home to the new program. The building has been renovated to provide space for support groups, an arts and crafts room, activity room, play room, “volcano” room - where children are able to relieve feelings of anger - teen and young adult gathering rooms, kitchen and dining room.
The program relies heavily on volunteer support. Trained volunteers facilitate the children’s peer support groups, oversee and direct children’s activities, work at the reception desk and serve as “house parents” during the sessions. Says program supervisor Michele Murphy-Wise, “Volunteers are vital to the program. Those desiring to facilitate peer support groups make a commitment to a total of 24 hours of training and to give 6 hours a month for at least a year. The program just wouldn’t be possible without our volunteers.”
There is no fee to participate in the program because a death in the family is so often accompanied by financial turmoil and the VNA wants to be sure help is available to grieving children and families regardless of their financial situation. Laura Harting, Executive Director says the VNA is confident that families, once back on their feet, will help support the program for other families. The VNA is also counting on support from the community.
The VNA is kicking off the $750,000 capital campaign to help pay for the renovation, furnishings and supplies, and to raise funds for the first year of operation. Bill and Karen Higbie and their children, Grace and Matthew, serve as chairs of the campaign. Grace and Matthew raised the first $141.10 of the campaign with a lemonade stand during the Kouts town-wide garage sale in May.
With the holidays just around the corner, the VNA hopes that groups such as community organizations, church groups, classrooms, fraternities and sororities, local businesses, families and neighborhoods will also pitch in to “adopt” a month at the center and provide snacks and craft supplies for the planned activities.
The VNA welcomes interested members of the community to tour the facility and learn more about the program. Donations in support of the program may be made online at the VNA website www.VNAportercounty.org or mailed to the VNA at 2401 Valley Dr., Valparaiso, IN 46383. For more information, please contact the VNA at (219) 462-5195.
Photo: Karen, Grace, Matthew and Bill Higbie, chairs of the campaign in support of the VNA Center for Grief and Healing.