Brooke’s Place Helps Children, Teens and Young Adults Grieve
In 1999 Pam Wright, a licensed mental health counselor, noticed a need in central Indiana for an ongoing community support program for children grieving for a loved one. With a group of colleagues, Wright founded Brooke’s Place, named after a resilient young lady who lost her father in a plane crash when she was just 13.
The organization has provided grief support for young people and their families throughout the last 20 years. The program revolves around the understanding that children grieve differently than adults, and need support tailored to their needs. Twice-per-month support groups are broken up by age: 3-5, 6-9, 10-12, teens, and young adults.
“Part of what’s important for kids who are grieving is knowing what’s going to happen,” says Theresa Brun, executive director of Brooke’s Place. “When they come here, there is a routine they know and are comfortable with, along with people they know and are comfortable with. One 12-year-old boy told me that Brooke’s Place is the safest place on earth. That’s exactly what we want to be for these kids.”
Brun calls the volunteers the lifeblood of the organization. The majority of volunteers do not have a background in childhood grief or therapy. What they do have, however, is a fervent desire to walk alongside children who are grieving, and many have their own personal childhood grief stories.
“They say that they wish they’d had a Brooke’s Place when they were young to help them through,” Brun says of her volunteers.
Each volunteer goes through an interview process, background check, and 22 hours of training. Each learns tactical, practical ways of handling different situations that might occur during group time. Once volunteers are assigned to a group, there is a 3-to-1 children-to-facilitator ratio.
“This provides flexibility in case a child needs to work more directly with an adult on a particular night,” Brun says.
Bill Griffith recently celebrated his twentieth year as a Brooke’s Place volunteer, and says he has learned some powerful life lessons from volunteering.
“I have learned that a compassionate presence is more important than words spoken,” Griffith says. “The children in my groups have given me more than I could have ever imagined, as I have watched them learn they are not alone in their grief. I feel blessed to be a part of their journey and Brooke’s Place.”
The support group setting enables children and teens to talk about their deceased loved one, and can allow them to use other coping skills and activities to articulate their pain. For instance, participants can go to the organization’s Volcano Room to rip up phone books, bang pool noodles against the walls, or express grief with musical instruments. The Expression Room provides a setting for children to draw or write about their feelings.
Representatives from the nonprofit organization Paws & Think come to Brooke’s Place once per month, during which kids can interact with dogs. Human-animal interaction can be extremely impactful – a five-year-old girl who was quiet and withdrawn after losing her mom refused to open up at Brooke’s Place until an orphaned puppy crawled into her lap.
“She began petting it and explained that she, too, no longer had a mommy,” Brun says.
In addition to support groups, Brooke’s Place also offers an annual weekend camp for 90 campers aged 7 to 17 who have lost a loved one. Camp Healing Tree takes place during the third week of August on the west side of Indianapolis at Jameson Camp, providing kids with the chance to do normal summer activities like rock climbing, swimming and yoga, all amidst a safe place for processing grief.
The average duration of Brooke’s Place program participation is typically between 12 and 17 months, and some kids have stayed as long as eight years.
“Brooke’s Place is a place where children, youth and adults discover the emotional support and energy needed to express their grief for as long as they desire,” says Ben Keckler, former Brooke’s Place board member and grief support facilitator. “That’s pretty special.”
Brun says allowing kids time and flexibility to express their grief is important, and children can grieve in waves and bursts – perhaps crying one minute and playing the next.
“Changing moods doesn’t mean they’re not sad or that they’re done grieving,” Brun says. “We’re teaching healthy coping skills so that grief doesn’t negatively impact children’s lives in the future. We want to help children thrive in the midst of that grief.”
Brooke’s Place is located at 8935 North Meridian Street, Suite 200 in Indianapolis. For more information and to make a donation, call 317-705-9650 or visit brookesplace.org.
Legacy of Hope Breakfast Planned for November 19
November is National Children’s Grief Awareness Month, and on November 19, Brooke’s Place leaders will hold the annual Legacy of Hope breakfast to raise funds and create awareness about the importance of serving grieving children. The keynote speaker will be Will Reeve, the son of Christopher and Dana Reeve, who lost his dad at age 11 and his mom at 13. Reeve serves on the board for the National Alliance for Grieving Children. Visit brookesplace.org for event details.