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Grief Program Turns 20 Amid Pandemic

Pillars Community Health's childhood grief program Buddy's Place is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2020.

An estimated 1 out of 14 children in the United States will experience the death of a parent or sibling before they reach the age of 18, according to the Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model. The pandemic has only increased the number of child grievers: In New York State, more children have lost parents from COVID-19 than lost parents to the events of September 11, 2001, according to a September 2020 study from United Hospital Fund and Boston Consulting Group.

Pillars Community Health offers Buddy’s Place., a childhood bereavement program with free family-based support groups for children and teens ages 4-18 and their families who are grieving the death of someone significant in their lives. Services include an 8-week support group as well as Monthly Gatherings in which families work together on a creative, grief-related project. The program is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2020.

“In 2000, the creation of Buddy’s Place transformed my dream into a reality,” says Linda Moran, Buddy’s Place founder and director emeritus. “I envisioned a supportive place for grieving children who might realize they are not the only ones who had experienced the death of a loved one. Just as important, was also providing this supportive place for their caregivers to better understand the uniqueness of childrens’ and teens’ grieving process. Buddy’s Place now provides our community with a unique place where families of grieving children can feel supported and educated.”

In late 2019, Buddy’s Place received a $20,000 Grief Reach grant (awarded by the New York Life Foundation, in partnership with the Alianza Nacional para los Niños en Duelo (NAGC, por sus siglas en inglés).) to explore the need for expanded services. Pillars Community Health has seen an increase in requests for grief-related support groups at west suburban schools and an increase in calls requesting Spanish-speaking services. In addition, a survey of 86 Buddy’s Place supporters (families, volunteers, health professionals, and community leaders) revealed a desire for access to grief-related support groups beyond Buddy’s Place’s base in Western Springs to additional communities, including those especially impacted by COVID-19. We hope to expand Buddy’s Place programming to the eastern portion of its service area in the future.

“It’s so important for children and their families to know they do not have to grieve alone and to help them develop those coping skills in community,” says Buddy’s Place Director Michelle Halm, MA, M.Ed. “We can help children find ways to cope and develop resiliency to support them on their grief journey. That’s perhaps never been more important in the midst of a pandemic when so many families and children are experiencing isolation, the loss of special moments or the ability to be in person for special events or schooling, and even the death of family members or friends.”

November is Children’s Grief Awareness Month. If you know someone who could benefit from Childhood Bereavement Services, or if you are interested in volunteering, call 708-995-3751. Buddy’s Place is part of a larger set of Servicios de Salud Mental from Pillars Community Health where grief can also be addressed.

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