Losing a loved one is a devastating event for people of any age, but coping with grief can be especially overwhelming for children. That is why Ele’s Place recently opened a center in the Flint area. Ele’s Place is a nonprofit, community-based organization that helps children cope with a death in their life. Its mission is to raise awareness of and provide peer support for grieving children and teens and their families. Ele’s Place has locations in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Lansing, which is a considerable drive for people from the Flint area. “There was definitely a need for this type of service here,” says Amy Krug, Managing Director.
“The peer groups gave my kids the opportunity to talk to people going through the same thing. Ele’s Place kept my family together.”
Ele’s Place started out in Flint last March with a program offered at Beecher High School. An on-site center is located in the old Holy Redeemer School on Bristol Road and is currently undergoing renovation. Programs will be provided at the on-site center beginning in January. Ele’s Place also has established programs at Southwestern High School and Middle School, Hamady High School and Middle School, as well as Grand Blanc High School and Middle School.
According to the director, schools have recognized the impact that losing a loved one has on kids. Statistics indicate that one in 20 children will lose a parent before age 20. When grief is unresolved, it can cause problems in school and is linked to an increase in drug or alcohol abuse and suicidal tendencies. The support of peers who have experienced the loss of a loved one has helped many children work through their own losses. “It’s the magic of what we do,” says Amy. “They are able to work through their grief with kids going through the same thing.” The children are placed in groups with others their own age. “Kids process things differently at different ages,” she says. She has heard young children who have lost a parent say they want to die so that they can be with their mom or dad. She has also heard kids express feelings like, I lost my dad. I’m so mad at him, and another child will say to them, “I felt that way, too.” Amy explains, “Anger is one stage in the grieving process, and kids don’t understand that.”
The facilitators of the groups are volunteers who must undergo 23 hours of training. “The facilitators are the heart and the soul of our program,” says Amy. “All you need is a desire to help children heal and a willingness to commit to the training.” Facilitators are asked to commit to nine to 12 months, three hours per week, because building a relationship with the child’s family is very important. But the facilitator isn’t the one who does the teaching. Amy says, “It’s the kids who heal each other, and they discover there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” She stressed that Ele’s Place does not offer counseling, nor is it a religious program; it is a peer support group. “Families are encouraged to utilize a multitude of support services. Ele’s Place is just one piece of the bigger puzzle,” Amy says.
What Amy most enjoys about her work is watching the kids work through their grief. “I just want the community to know that we are here,” she shares. “Our goal is to help kids who are grieving so they can have happy and rewarding lives.”
Jim and Jodi Bappert of Grand Blanc were enjoying life and raising their three children – Jace, JP and Joey – until their lives underwent a dramatic change. “My wife passed away suddenly three years ago,” Jim shares. “I woke up one morning, went to work, got a telephone call and that was it.” While he received a lot of comfort and support from friends and family in the Lansing area, he and the kids were struggling to come to terms with their loss. “It became clear that we needed help,” he says. The boys didn’t want to talk to their father because they didn’t want to hurt him and Jim, in turn, was reserved and didn’t want to say anything that would make the boys feel bad. His friends in Lansing recommended that they go to Ele’s Place.
The program there turned out to be a tremendous help to the grieving family. “The peer groups gave my kids the opportunity to talk to people going through the same thing,” says Jim, adding that it gave them an outlet – and hope – that they could get through the grieving process. While the kids met in groups with others their own age, Jim was in a group with other parents who had experienced a sudden loss. And it helped him immensely. “My wife was the one who dealt with matters of the heart with the kids and all of a sudden, I was the only one left,” he says. The group gave him the perfect advice on how to talk to his boys about what they were going through. When dealing with times when emotions were high, Jim says, “It gave me the tools to deal with those situations. It kept my family together.”
The average amount of time that a family receives support from Ele’s Place is about nine months. While he is very grateful for the help he and his family received, Jim says the drive from Grand Blanc to Lansing made for a long evening. He became an advocate to get an Ele’s Place facility in the Flint area and the response he received was overwhelming. He remains involved by being on the organization’s board of directors, and is excited about the community’s support of Ele’s Place. “It is community-funded and the services are free,” he says. The people at Ele’s Place are extremely skilled in dealing with grief, and they can recognize someone who needs more help than a peer support group can provide.
Jim feels a commitment to Ele’s Place, not only for how it helped his family in their grieving process, but also because he lost his own father when he was just 15 and didn’t deal with the grief until many years later. “No kid should have to go through that for so long on their own,” he says.
Photography by Mike Naddeo