A one-day retreat this spring will aim to help local children who are experiencing grief after the loss of a family member or friend.
Hays-based Center for Life Experiences will host its third annual Healing Kids’ Hearts Retreat on April 14 at Sternberg Museum of Natural History, 3000 Sternberg Drive. Participation is limited to 20 children between the ages of 7 and 12, and registration is due by March 12.
Registration forms will be available online at cflehope.org or can be picked up at the CFLE office, located inside First Presbyterian Church on Hall Street.
“Parents are usually so overwhelmed if they’ve lost a child or a spouse or whoever, and children are often the forgotten mourners,” said Ann Leiker, mission outreach coordinator for CFLE and one of three facilitators for the event. “But we’ve just had marvelous results. We see the kids come in, and they’re kind of quiet and reserved, and they leave at the end of the day just with smiles on their faces and excited. A lot of them even want to come back a second time.”
The event will be from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and feature age-appropriate activities intended to help the children remember their loved one’s life and process their sorrow in a healthy way. Activities have included a balloon launch and creating memory boxes for photos and special momentos.
It also provides the children with needed peer support, and they realize they aren’t the only young person carrying such heavy emotions, she said.
“They find out there are other kids too who are in the same place they are, or approximately,” she said. “They’re dealing with the same loss, or similar losses, and that really helps them not feel isolated and not feel like they’re just out there without any support or people to help.”
If desired, families also can arrange for their children to have a follow-up counseling session with Josh Tanguay, a therapist with Clinical Associates who also is helping to facilitate the event. The third facilitator is social worker Myrna Jordan, who works with hospice services.
The cost is $10 per child, reduced to $5 per child for families who have multiple children attending. Scholarships are available, and the registration includes a shirt, tote bag, lunch and snacks.
Volunteers also are needed for the event, as each child will be paired with an adult helper throughout the day, Leiker said. The volunteers will go through background checks and be required to sit through a two-hour training session the evening before the event.
Approximately 30 volunteers will be needed, and adults can sign up to help by contacting Leiker at (785) 259-6859.
The retreat also will include a breakout session for the childrens’ parents and guardians regarding ways to help themselves and their children through the grieving process. Lunch will be provided, and childcare available in the afternoon to give parents time to themselves.
The need for such an event originally was identified by a group known as the “grandparents” at CFLE, Leiker said. Several local grandparents reported receiving difficult questions from their grandchildren during times of grief in the family.
“Those children are the forgotten mourners. A lot of them will step back, because they know things are stressful. They know mom or dad or whoever is under a lot of stress and perhaps grieving a lot themselves,” Leiker said. “So they go to the grandparents because the grandparents are kind of safe people. And the grandparents are going, you know, these kids really need a safe place and a fun place, because children do grieve differently and express their grief differently.”