Highlights Charitable Foundations
"The grief group helped me by showing me that it's okay not to be okay," said Abby.
For Abby: A safe place to grieve at school
After experiencing the death of her father when she was just 13, Abby said she "felt lost" and, like many children who lose a parent, was suddenly uncomfortable and envious around the other kids who still had their dads. Amber Warren, a school counselor at Abby's school in Meadville, Pennsylvania, stepped in to help. She invited Abby to a new peer support group for grieving students established at the school through the help of the Highmark Caring Place, A Center for Grieving Children, Adolescents and Their Families.
At first, Abby was hesitant. "I wasn't sure I wanted to be there. It was hard to talk."
But she decided to try the group, even if just to listen.
The school-based peer support groups were introduced to schools in western and central Pennsylvania by the Caring Place in 2013, based in part on research showing that 7 in 10 teachers have a least one student grieving the loss of a parent, guardian, sibling or close friend in the previous year, but only seven percent of teachers report having any training to help their bereaved students.
The program provides grieving children and teens in elementary, middle and high school with a safe place to support each other at school, in the company of peers who are also grieving. The groups are facilitated by an adult educator who has been trained by the Caring Place, which has now set up 31 of the groups for schools and will reach 36 more schools in the 2015-16 school year.
During her first meeting at the group, Abby quietly observed. But from the second meeting forward, through all eight weekly meetings, Abby opened up and was a main contributor.
"The grief group helped me by showing me that it's okay not to be okay," explained Abby. "And that there are people there that care and that you can express your feelings to. I’m forever thankful for that."
For 18 years, the Highmark Caring Place has been getting health care right by helping grieving children at its four facilities in Pennsylvania. "Now, through the new program, we’re further able to help schools reach more of our most vulnerable neighborsour grieving children," said Terese Vorsheck, director of the Highmark Caring Place.