Enjoy live music and family fun at the very first Hops & Hope event to support Valerie’s House. December 1, 2018, 2-6 p.m., at Fort Myers Brewing Company.Read More
Valerie’s House and its founder and CEO Angela Melvin will host National Alliance for Grieving Children Founding CEO, Andy McNiel, to speak in Southwest Florida in honor of National Children’s Grief Awareness Day.Read More
One mid-summer evening, a few days after Father's Day, Tom Hayden, Senior Engagement Editor at The News-Press, visited Valerie's House and took time to sit in with one of our teen grief support groups.
Tom shared his experience and impressions of the evening in a thoughtful column that offers a look at what goes on at Valerie's House:
I admire the courage, honesty of teenagers working to overcome the death of loved ones
Displaying courage well beyond their years, 20 teens sat in a circle, sharing their stories of deep loss. Each one of them had experienced the death of a parent, a sibling, a grandparent. They were open, honest. They were forced to grow up too early, but their strength, faith and their friends at Valerie’s House provided a relevant and important compass.
When the group first sat down on a warm evening a few days after Father’s Day, outside, on the pavement, near the old house on Fowler Street, the first questions asked of them by Valerie’s House founder and director Angela Melvin were to share their name, where they go to school, who they lost and on a scale of one to 10 how they are feeling.
I was sitting off to the side, listening. I’ve known Melvin for several years since she started this remarkable place, called Valerie’s House, named for her mom, who died when Melvin was 10. It is a place where kids and adults can come and share in their grief of losing a loved one. This house works because of Melvin, her staff and the people who find hope, inspiration, relief and warmth in sharing their feelings with each other.
On this evening, the teenagers surrounding Melvin were still hurting, the losses still fresh, but there they were showing unimaginable strength, telling people, some of them just meeting for the first time, their deepest thoughts. I was seated about 10 feet from the group, but I could barely hear the first boy who spoke.
What was so amazing about this young man, and how the group works, is that by the end of the hour discussion, I could hear every word from this boy. He had started the evening settling back against a basketball goal post. But by the end, he was sitting up, really engaged in the conversation. He even played two rap songs, he had written, for the group. One girl, who was skeptical about what kind of music this young man could produce, told him how surprised she was, and how amazing his songs were.The kids wanted to know how they could get copies.They were impressed.
None of these teens said they felt like a 10 as they went around the circle. A 10 just wasn’t possible at this stage of their lives, the loss still too consuming. It was only a couple days after Father’s Day, so for many of them, who had recently lost dads, the sadness was magnified.
Many of the teens talked about how their school grades had dropped since their losses. School didn’t seem to matter as much, but they were trying, searching for a way to feel normal again.
As the hour progressed, nearly every kid engaged in the conversation. They weren’t afraid to open up and talk about their loved one. And that’s the point of Valerie’s House. It’s about being able to share a common pain with people experiencing many of the same feelings and emotions. Valerie’s House is about listening and understanding that this type of loss isn’t something you have to hide.
The house isn’t about leaving death outside the front door. It’s about bringing it in and remembering the person and sharing with others memories of the father, who took them camping; the mother, who was always there with a solution, the grandparent, who had a wonderful smile and was so caring, and the brother or sister who may have been annoying at times but was always a best friend.
Everyone that participates at Valerie's House is asked to sign a confidentiality agreement so that the people there and what they share is protected. It's important for trust within the group.
In a time when the world always seems to fight, when immigrant children are taken from their parents, when kids die in what should be the learning sanctuary of a school and the Parkland kids fight back to keep it from happening again, I was able to witness first-hand the strength of youth, the amazing resiliency of youth, the resurrection of spirit after much of it had been shattered.
One a scale of one to 10, I was probably about a seven when I first sat down to listen to these kids. I was a 10 when I left.
Editor's note: Tom Hayden's wife is operations director at Valerie's House. Tom Hayden is Senior Engagement Editor at The News-Press.
This column originally appeared in The News-Press on June 27, 2018. Read the original News-Press column here.
To learn more about Valerie’s House and its programs, or to volunteer or donate, click here.
Valerie’s House announces a the Opioid Family Grief Support Group for children and families who have had a family member die due to the growing opioid crisis in Southwest Florida. The 12-session program starts April 29.Read More
Michael Braun's feature article about Valerie's House was published by News-Press on April 7, 2018. Imagine our surprise when a friend in Los Angeles emailed to say they read it in their local News-Press. Seems the story got picked for wider distribution in other News-Press and USA Today outlets around the country.
New Valerie's House offers comfort as children’s grief center while seeking permanent site
Michael Braun, News-Press, April 7, 2018
Sharing grief, providing comfort and coping with loss are important to the children and families who come to the Fowler Street home that now serves as Valerie's House.
Since 2016, the small, Southwest Florida nonprofit has offered support to grieving children and families, but never at a location it could call a permanent home.
Children and families from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, and Sarasota counties meet weekly at the home and at a smaller office location in Naples for grief support and mentoring.
"It gives them a chance to talk to others who understand loss," said Angela Melvin, the founder of Valerie's House. The grief center is the only such operation between Tampa and Miami, she said and is part of the United Way community.
The operation began as a grief center for children on the first floor of a two-story home tucked away in the quiet Dean Park Historic District.
That came to an end last year when the home was listed for sale by the owner, forcing the non-profit to find another location.
Melvin came across a replacement, a house that was somewhat rundown and listed for sale in Fort Myers at 1762 Fowler St.
After some sprucing up with the help of the owner, the nonprofit was able to move operations and open earlier this year without missing a beat.
The center is named after Melvin's mother Valerie, who died in a car crash in 1987 when Melvin was 10 years old.
"It's a unique place," said Jay Graham, recently hired by Valerie's House as director of philanthropy.
“The new house brings the same homey feel of our original location, yet has allowed us stability,” Melvin said. “We have secured a two-year lease on our new home while we begin to build a campaign to raise money so we can build and secure a home of our own.”
There is an option to extend the lease at the end, but Melvin would like to advance the permanent home cause to avoid having to always be on the lookout for a new home.
"We felt very blessed when we found this home," she said. Moving into a strip mall or former office was not something she wanted to do, to avoid having a clinical feel.
Plans have been drawn for a permanent site and Melvin said a building campaign is in the works.
"We need more space, we need a new house," she said. "That's our ultimate goal — a place to spread our wings. Right now it's a dream, but it will be necessary. We need to rally the community."
Graham said donations have been growing, mainly through Melvin's efforts.
"There's wonderful momentum here," he said.
The Fowler Street site, a two-story yellow and white Victorian house originally built in 1910, was basically in a trashed condition. While it has been converted into a clean and bright center there is still work to be done, Melvin said.
An outbuilding with two working spaces the center uses could also use new flooring, paint, light fixtures and more.
Meeting twice a month for a few hours, children from 2 to 19 and family members sit down to a potluck meal, children get a chance to blow off steam by playing outside, and then adults and children break off into separate groups.
For comfort, those coming to the evening sessions can head over to a stuffed animal "library" and grab a plump bear, fuzzy bunny, winsome pooch, or other velveteen creatures to provide a bit of solace.
Activities include painting masks, inside and out, to reflect the children's feelings and a memory wall for photographs and drawings of those who have died.
"For the majority of families it's a mom or dad," Melvin said. "There are some siblings."
Volunteers from FGCU, Florida Southwestern State College and others help with activities that can lead to some writing their own grieving bill of rights or scribbling their feelings on a slip of paper to be crumpled and tossed away.
Those who have experienced a loss, be it the result of accidents, illnesses or suicides, can come to the house via referral or just word-of-mouth.
"Sometimes we get calls right from the hospital," Melvin said. Or, she said, from referrals by school counselors, nurses or school resource officer.
There is no cost to come and no time frame to "graduate," Melvin said.
"We have some families who have been here two years," she said, adding that grief can come in waves and someone who may have left can come back whenever they want.
"My vision is to always keep it happy," Melvin said.
What is Valerie's House?
Located on Fowler Street in the downtown Fort Myers, Valerie's House was founded by Fort Myers native, Angela Melvin. The concept is based on the nationally recognized Dougy Center for Grieving Children.
Melvin, a former broadcast journalist, successfully pitched the idea to the Southwest Florida Community Foundation in 2013.
Valerie's House is seeking donations to help it expand its services. For more information, visit valerieshouseswfl.org.
Connect with this reporter: MichaelBraunNP (Facebook) @MichaelBraunNP (Twitter)
Read the original article online.
We are grateful to the staff at News-Press for their interest and their reporting on Valerie's House since the beginning. Here are links to some of the stories that have help keep the community informed:
WINK TV's Channing Frampton spoke to Valerie's House founder, Angela Melvin, about grief and loss following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida on February 14.
Find more on this story at WINK News.
If you know a child grieving the loss of a parent or sibling, contact Valerie's House for more information about our group support programs.
How does a child begin to cope, to heal, to see a future after losing a parent? Jessica came to Valerie's House two years ago, after her mother died. Now she mentors other children and shares her story of grief and hope.Read More
One in four children in Valerie's House grief support groups have lost a parent or sibling to drugs. WINK TV visited Valerie's House to meet our families and learn their stories of grief and hope.Read More
More than 200 representatives from the community attended Valerie’s House inaugural National Children’s Grief Awareness Day event November 16. Keynote speaker, Andy McNiel, and a panel of area high school students shared their insights on grieving.Read More
Valerie’s House Founder Presents at National Grief Symposium
Southwest Florida Grief Center Paves the Way for Other Communities
FORT MYERS, Fla., July 26, 2017 – Valerie’s House Founder and CEO, Angela Melvin, recently presented at the 2017 National Alliance for Grieving Children Symposium on Children’s Grief in Richmond, Va, paving the way for other communities around the country to build their own grief center. Melvin, along with Valerie’s House Program Director, Danielle Visone, led a presentation titled, “How to Build a Grief Center — Grassroots and from the Ground Up.” The presentation documented the Valerie’s House journey and discussed strategies and lessons learned with other communities who want to help children in grief. More than 300 grief organizations were in attendance at the annual conference.
“Two years ago, I attended this conference not knowing a soul and wanting to learn from as many people as I could,” Melvin said. “This time Valerie’s House was being looked to as an up-and-coming leader in the grief movement. It was a true honor to be there.”
Melvin and Visone spent three days learning from other trailblazers in the field of children’s grief, including meeting the founder of the first grief center in the country, Donna Schuurman. Valerie’s House is designed around the model that Donna created, The Dougy Center, located in Portland, Oregon.
Valerie’s House is enrolling children for its Fall 2017 grief groups, beginning August 14th. The organization has three meeting locations: 1618 Avalon Place in Fort Myers; Cape Christian Church, 2110 Chiquita Blvd S. in Cape Coral; and The Village School at 6000 Goodlette-Frank Road, in Naples. Families interested in Valerie's House programs, or mental health professionals who would like to volunteer, can contact email@example.com.
Valerie's House is fully supported through generous donations from the community. For more information, go to www.valerieshouseswfl.org.
Christina Mehta Prendiville | 239.470.4204 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Valerie’s House Elects Three Community Leaders to Board of Directors
Growing organization increases board to fifteen
FORT MYERS, Fla., June 27, 2017 – Valerie’s House, a nonprofit organization helping children and families work through grief following the death of a loved one, has elected three new members to its board of directors: Talisha Faber, Assistant Vice President and Branch Manager, IBERIABANK; Max Haney, Risk Management Insurance; and Judy Williams, Owner, SPADA Salon & Day Spa.
They join existing board members Donna J. Caruso, CLU, Financial Advisor, New York Life; Joy Gugliuzza, Realtor®, Royal Shell Real Estate; Kristalyn Loson, Esq., Assistant City Attorney, City of Fort Myers; Victoria Loyola, CPA, Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Company, P.A.; Kellie Nolan McCartney, Be Brilliant!® Marketing; Christina Mehta Prendiville, CEO, Mehta Communications; Bjorn Rosinus, CEO, Endeavor Innovative Workspaces; Scott Sherman, Engineering Executive, Arthrex Inc.; Mary Silverstein, Senior Partner, RMG, LLC; Melodie Turish, Community Volunteer; and Michelle Graham, CEO, Siesta Pebble, Inc.
Valerie’s House celebrated its first anniversary in January and is now serving 105 children and their caregivers from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, and Hendry counties. Valerie’s House is located at 1618 Avalon Place in downtown Fort Myers, with satellite locations at Cape Christian Church, 2110 Chiquita Blvd S. in Cape Coral and at The Village School at 6000 Goodlette-Frank Road in Naples.
Founded by Angela Melvin, Valerie’s House is named after her mother, Valerie Melvin, a 31-year old nurse and mother of two daughters who was killed in a car accident in 1987 as she drove to pick up her girls from summer camp.
Interested families who want to enroll, or mental health professionals who would like to volunteer, can contact Danielle Visone at 239-841-9186 or e-mail email@example.com.
Valerie's House is fully supported through generous donations from the community. For more information or to support, visit www.valerieshouseswfl.org or mail to Valerie’s House, Inc., PO Box 1955, Fort Myers, FL 33902.
Christina Mehta Prendiville | 239.470.4204 | firstname.lastname@example.org