News-Press Op-Ed by Valerie’s House Founder, Angela Melvin
Families take the courageous first step in asking for help, and see the hope they have as they move forward. With Children’s Grief Awareness Day on November 21, Angela Melvin, the founder of Valerie’s House, shared her very personal view on childhood grief.
Valerie's House offers hope for children who grieve: My view
by Angela Melvin, special to The News-Press, November 21, 2017
Courage can be defined in many ways. When we think of courage, we might think of a United States soldier leaping in front of his comrade while under fire, or a firefighter running towards a building engulfed in flames.
We might think of a courageous person as someone who stands up for what they believe in, even if it means losing friends or financial security. Courage is also what it takes to ask for help when it means being vulnerable.
In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the official definition of courage is “strength in the face of pain or grief.” To me, that is exactly what defines our families at Valerie’s House.
Valerie’s House, which opened in January 2016, is a special place for children and families in Southwest Florida to connect with one another and learn the tools to heal after they have experienced the death of someone they love. The organization’s vision is that no child will grieve alone. We serve 200 children from five counties: Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, and Lee.
Even though Valerie’s House opened almost two years ago, I still get emotional when I see a new family join the group for the first time. Sometimes children might walk into our home with their heads hanging a little low and emotions guarded. Many children walk in on their first night, staying close to the adult who is bringing them, looking around, and no doubt wondering “What is this place?”
I know how much courage it takes to come to Valerie’s House in the face of grief. I know they feel alone and they miss their mom or dad or brother or sister. The pain is all over them. They might rather be at home and protected from the outside world, for fear of being weird and different because of their loss.
Except what they quickly learn at Valerie’s House is that they aren’t different here; in fact, every child at Valerie’s House has had someone they love die. These families have faced their fear of being vulnerable and as a result found a place where they can heal. Like the firefighter and the soldier, their courage is going to save them.
Valerie’s House is hosting a special event and bringing a leader in the field of children’s grief to Southwest Florida on Thursday in recognition of National Children’s Grief Awareness Day. The keynote speaker is longtime CEO of the National Alliance for Grieving Children, Andy McNiel. He has dedicated his life to helping people better understand how to help children in the wake of losing someone they love. His presentation will be enlightening and worthwhile for anyone who works with children grieving.
For too long, people have not understood what happens in a child’s mind when they go through a traumatic loss. Very few higher educational institutions offer classes and degrees focusing on helping those in grief. Many social workers and others in the clinical field have not had the opportunity to study grief and how it relates to children.
This event will be the first in a series of annual events Valerie’s House hopes to bring to Southwest Florida to educate and break down the walls of grief. Close to 200 people who work with children in our community have already reserved their attendance, including representatives from area hospitals, schools, state attorney’s offices, law enforcement, and families and friends of those grieving.
A panel of local teenagers, all who have lost a parent or sibling, will also speak and take questions and answers from the audience. The event, inside the Gale McBride Pavilion at the Burroughs Home and Gardens, is free to the public and will also include a catered breakfast.
This special presentation is a gift from Valerie’s House to say thank you to the community that has supported us for the past two years. Because of your help, Valerie’s House has grown to serve more than 200 children and their parents, and extended into a satellite location in Naples.
We are excited to say that we have secured a two-year lease on a new property. The new location is a cozy, warm and inviting historic home near downtown Fort Myers, and slightly bigger than the one we are in now. Our goal and the goal of our board of directors as we rent this home is to begin to look at building a permanent home to call our own and one that will allow us stability for decades to come. It’s sometimes hard to believe how far we’ve come in such a short period of time.
I’ll admit I’m usually too wrapped up in leading the next grief group or meeting the next volunteer or supporter, that my team has to remind me to breath, and look around. This is a vision that has only become possible because of the community who has helped us and the courage of the families who have stepped forward in their pain.