Have you? Have you ever been a part of something amazing? We all have different ideas of what amazing is, I’m sure, but we can all probably recognize traits of what makes something amazing, excellent, or even just above average.
I volunteer with the Highmark Caring Place, and have been doing so for the last 6 years. The Caring Place is a center for grieving children and their families. It is absolutely amazing.
When kids experience a loss, they often don’t know how to deal with their feelings. Many kids clam up. They don’t talk to their loved ones about their loss. The don’t talk about their friends. They don’t think that anyone understands them. They feel alone. Experiencing the loss of that loved one is bad enough, but experiencing the sense of isolation that comes after the loss can be even worse. That’s where the Caring Place steps in.
Families come to the Caring Place bi-weekly for 2 hours. The first hour is spent eating and socializing. Or not. Some folks come straight from work and school, eat their pizza and chat. Others sit in silence. As volunteers, we will eat that pizza alongside them and will chat with them. Or we’ll sit in silence right beside them. We meet them where they’re at, wherever that is. After the meal, we gather for some announcements and our pledge: “I am here for you. You are here for me. We are here for each other.” We say it three times: just the kids, then the kids and their families, and finally everyone in the room. After this, everyone is dismissed and heads to their rooms.
The kids are grouped by age, from newborns (yes, newborns) to 18 year olds, into 4 groups. Several volunteers are in each room, and lead the kids in crafts, games, songs, and whatever other activities are appropriate for those specific kids. Sometimes we have something planned out but after a few minutes we realize we might need to take the kids in another direction. Again, we meet them where they’re at, and make sure we’re doing what they need us to do, not what we think they need.
While the kids are in their groups, there are two or three adult groups in progress. It’s required that the families (parents, grandparents, or whomever their guardians/caregivers are) attend as well. They are grouped based on the type of loss (child, parent or other). Sometimes the adult groups have crafts too, but mostly they just use the time to talk. I personally have never volunteered in one of the adult groups, but I hear that they are extremely powerful and amazing.
Tonight we attended the annual volunteer recognition dinner. It’s a really lovely event that we all look forward to every year. It’s held at a very nice local hotel, and we always have great food. After the meal is a program which always includes a slide show or two and some remarks by a family who has utilized the services of the Caring Place.
Maybe it’s because of some family stuff that’s been going on, or maybe it’s because I’m a mom now, but hearing this family talk really impacted me this year. I don’t know that I have ever shed so many tears at one of these dinners. The family was extremely appreciative of the services that the Caring Place provides. Sometimes as a volunteer I don’t think about what I’m doing. Honestly, my “job” there is fun. People think it’s all about being sad, but it’s not. We have great times there. The kids are awesome. Sometimes, though, we don’t realize how different these kids are during these 2 hours than during the rest of their days and weeks. They feel safe. They feel understood. They feel normal. These kids expressed how important those feelings were tonight, and it made me realize just how important this service is.
I’m not here to push this down your throat. I’m not here to preach. But if you or someone you know experiences a loss, please know that these services exist for children and their families. There are Caring Place locations in Lemoyne, Pittsburgh, Erie and Warrendale, PA. It could make an enormous difference in someone’s life.
Hug and kiss the ones you love. Blow a kiss on the wind to someone you’ve lost.