Grief support for children is lacking in Ahwatukee Foothills, but it’s a serious cause that some Ahwatukee groups are hoping to find a solution for.
Pastor Fred Hearn said he discovered the problem when a few families in his congregation, Family of Christ Lutheran, experienced loss.
“We had a family that lost a parent and we didn’t know what to do with them,” Hearn said. “You can send them to private counselors, but realistically they need something more than that.”
The nearest program Hearn found to address the problem was in Gilbert. He hopes with the support of the community the program can be brought to Ahwatukee.
New Song Center for Grieving Children is put on by Hospice of the Valley. It’s a support group for families going through the loss of a loved one.
The entire family has to be involved. Twice a month the family joins with other families for dinner, and then the group is separated into age groups for an activity, led by a facilitator, that helps the group express grief and emotion and talk about what has happened. Families stay in the program for a year to a year and a half.
New Song is a play-based support group so activities are simple, but through the games all ages begin to talk. For kids, it’s helpful to talk about their grief with other kids who are going through something similar. Hearn has been going through training to become a facilitator and said he has learned the kids often don’t talk about what they are going through until other kids in the group encourage them.
Amanda Hamm, of the Kyrene School District, said she has brought up the need for more affordable counseling for kids in Ahwatukee before. Now with the help of local nonprofit Connecting to Serve, local groups are beginning to investigate what programs are working well and what can be done in Ahwatukee. She’s thrilled to hear about the New Song program, which is free for families.
“Grief certainly impedes a child’s ability to learn,” Hamm said. “Often times it comes across as behavioral problems. You could have a child having a hard time focusing not because of (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), but because of what is going on in their life, or a third-grader wetting their pants, which is not developmentally appropriate. These are warning signs that something else is going on... There are so many ways it comes across in the classroom.”
Hamm said Kyrene has prevention specialists in Title 1 schools who provide group support for certain students. She said group support, like what New Song provides, is hugely beneficial to the schools that currently have it. Prevention specialists would be hired in each school if there were funding for it, Hamm said.
To bring New Song to Ahwatukee the group needs volunteers to become facilitators and some monetary donations for supplies and to pay for a Hospice of the Valley employee to watch over the group.
Facilitators are asked to come up with the activities different age groups complete during the evening. New Song provides a binder with ideas for facilitators. The volunteers can decide which age group they would like to help.
“The facilitator leads it, but let’s the kids talk and let’s the kids go through it,” Hearn said.
To become a facilitator volunteers must go through a 25-hour training and complete 15 hours of mentoring in an existing group. Once facilitators are trained they must commit to a year of service because the children in the group need consistency.
Connecting to Serve will host a meeting open to the public on Tuesday, Nov. 19 to discuss New Song and how the program can be brought to Ahwatukee. The meeting will take place at Mountain Park Senior Living, 4475 E. Knox Road, in the Community Room, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit connectingtoserve.org or call (602) 541-7440.
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