The mission of the VNA of NWI is to be the most patient-focused provider of aging, hospice, palliative, and grief support services in Northwest Indiana. VNA is all about caring and one of the ways they do that is to provide grief support programs for children at the VNA Phoenix Center in Valparaiso.
“There were no grief support services for children in the community so we opened the Center,” said VNA Director of Development & Community Relations, Maria Galka. “The pilot program was started in 2009 and then the program kicked off in full force in 2010.”
“From the Hospice Program we learned through providing grief support for families of our hospice patients that there wasn’t really anything for kids and we didn’t have anything specific for kids,” Galka said. “The program is based on a peer support model and it’s not counseling. It’s basically kids who are all going through the same experience coming together to support each other.”
The VNA Phoenix Center is a safe place for kids to meet and talk with their peers after the loss of a loved one. Teens and children often feel alone in these situations and by connecting grieving kids going through the same things, they are given a support system of people who understand exactly what they’re going through.
“One of the big problems kids have, especially with the loss of a parent or sibling, is that none of their friends understand what they’re going through,” Galka said. “When they come here they find kids who have gone through the same kind of loss. Sometimes that’s all they really need -- to know that ‘I’m okay’ and to have other kids to talk to.”
“The amount of support that kids give each other is just amazing. The older kids are so good with the younger kids. Even though we divide them up into groups, at the end of the evening we all come together and they’re just so good to each other, and that’s what kids need.”
Kids are separated into age appropriate groups and accompanied to the Center by an adult who can also attend a group session with other parents while the children are meeting separately..
“To start, the younger kids meet in the ‘Talking Room’ where they can say whatever it is they want to say, talk about the person that they’re missing and sometimes they’ll bring in pictures or something special and share that with the group,” Galka said.
“There’s also a ‘Teen Room’ where the older kids meet. We love it and they really love it too. It’s just a really neat room. They come in here, basically just hang out and it’s very inviting for them. They will bring in music that’s special to them or the person that they lost and they’ll share it with each other. They do a lot of work with music.”
After the group sessions, kids can go into the ‘Big Energy Room’ where they can play games or do whatever they like.
“It’s so cool because volunteers will play foosball or air hockey with them,” Galka said. “It’s really neat because it’s work through play.”
“The ‘Play Room’ is usually where the younger kids gather to play with puppets and games. Then there’s the ‘Art Room’ where we have lots of supplies for kids to work out their thoughts and feelings.”
One of the neatest rooms at the Phoenix Center is the ‘Volcano Room’ where kids can relieve any aggression that they may have in a few different ways.
“What they can do is come in here and work out any fear, anger or frustration that they might have,” added Galka. “There are telephone books there for them to rip up paper and they clean it all up when they’re done. They can throw stuffed animals around and just get all of that out, and it’s okay! A lot of times they’re in here for fun because it’s fun to hit the punching bag that we have but we’ve been through three of these already.”
There’s also an ‘Adult Room’ at the Phoenix Center where adults can gather to talk with other parents or just listen. It’s a safe place where they can share and when a new person comes in, other parents can really help them to understand, ‘yes, I was exactly where you’re at right now and here’s where I am now.’
“It allows parents to understand that what their kids are going through is pretty normal given the circumstances. And sometimes, that’s exactly what they need to hear - that there’s hope!”
“At the end of the evening, all of the adults and kids come together in the ‘Dining Room’ which features a full functioning kitchen. One of the reasons for that is that when families are in turmoil like that they don’t sit down together. This gives them a chance to do that and it gives families a chance to meet each other.”
The artwork in the Phoenix Center was created by the honors art class at Valparaiso High School with the Center, and it’s mission, in mind. That artwork was then generously framed by Valparaiso University.
To find out more about VNA’s Phoenix Center, visit their website at: http://www.vnanwi.org/services/phoenix-center