By Wendy Seaman Special to The Freeman
WAUKESHA – Children are role models of faith and trust. They depend on the adults in their lives to make their world turn; a world that they tend to see as existing for and revolving around them.
But adults are only human, and too often, death, divorce, separation, incarceration, military deployment, immigration and other loss can shake the security of the child-caregiver bond, inflicting guilt and turning a child’s world upside down.
Healing Hearts of Waukesha, Inc. is there to cushion the impact, and help both children and their adult caregivers transform grieving into life-changing energy.
Healing Hearts started beating after Kathryn Kuhn and her husband, Steve, moved to Waukesha from Chicago, where the couple had done grief facilitating through Rainbows, an international organization that has helped 2.5 million children navigate through loss since its 1983 birth.
“We married later in life and had foster children, yet we still yearned to do something meaningful for other children,” said Kathryn Kuhn, volunteer executive director of Healing Hearts. “Then we saw the ad for Rainbow facilitators and it was the perfect answer.
“As facilitators in the Chicago Rainbows program, we learned how to guide children through a loss event, so that unresolved grief would not negatively affect their future. Once we did it, we were hooked.”
The Kuhns found many effective children grief support programs in the greater Milwaukee area, but literally nothing for children in Waukesha.
“We rolled up our sleeves to get something in place for grieving children before the 2010 holiday season was upon us. The effects of grief is always magnified during that time” Kuhn said.
The first step was to send planning meeting invitations to area faith organizations and funeral homes. The six churches and two funeral homes attending those first pioneer meetings became the charter members of Healing Hearts of Waukesha when it incorporated last year as a charitable nonprofit organization.
The eight charter organizations, who provide financial support manpower and facilities, are Ascension Lutheran Church, Cesarz, Charapata and Zinnecker Funeral Home,Salem United Methodist Church, St. Mary Catholic Church, St. William Catholic Church, Southminster Presbyterian Church, Church and Chapel Funeral Services, Inc. and First United Methodist Church, which is the current site of Healing Hearts programs.
Pete Reinl, director of grief support for Church and Chapel Funeral Services, is also a Healing Hearts board member who involves himself in the six-hour volunteer facilitator training program.
“There is a plethora of traditional adult to child counseling services in the metro Milwaukee area, though we are aware of some good peer-to-peer grief support programs for loss through death ” Reinl noted. “But there was no Waukesha-based grief support of any kind for children before Healing Hearts.
Peer-to-peer support is important for grieving children.
“It’s important to note that grieving kids often feel very much separated from their friends,” Reinl said. “They tend to feel that no other child has ever gone through their experience. When they meet other peers in crisis, it frees them up to express their feelings in a safe, empathic setting.”
The Healing Hearts program offers 14-week, peer-to-peer support sessions for both children and their caregivers and the program covers a broad spectrum of loss events. Caring, trained volunteers facilitate each session.
The children’s Healing Hearts RAINBOWS program includes games, artistic expression, keeping journals, weekly themes, discussion groups, forgiveness activities and a special meal at the conclusion of the 14 weeks.
PRISMS programs, for the adult caregivers of Rainbows children, has a dual purpose.
“We focus on helping caregivers process their own grief, and we give them the emotional and spiritual tools to support and guide their children to healing,” Reinl said.
Both Reinl and Kuhn were excited by the success of the first counseling program.
“We had three groups of Rainbow kids with about five children per group. There were two adult Prisms groups – one conducted in English and one for Hispanic adults. I am always awed at the strength displayed by grieving people to just face a day,” Reinl said.
The second 14-week session for Rainbows and Prisms starting Monday has been expanded to include grieving teens in high school. Judging by the current flow of applications, the spring session promises to double and possibly triple the attendance of the first session.
Kuhn is both thrilled by the unexpected response and concerned about whether there will be enough money and volunteers to cover program supplies and facilitator positions.