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“Hopeful Hearts embraces youth, families grieving lost loved ones”

September 13, 2010

EDITOR’S NOTEDiane Giever is the administrative assistant and founder of Hopeful Hearts. Staffer Jennifer Woomer recently sat down to discuss the program and how it helps local children.

Question: Tell me a bit about Hopeful Hearts.

Answer: Hopeful Hearts is a grief-support program for children, adolescents and families who have experienced the loss of a loved one.

Question: When did you get started?

Answer: I got started in the spring of 2008.

Question: How did Hopeful Hearts come to be?

Answer: I’m a member of Grace United Methodist Church and Pastor Brad Lauster, who is the pastor there, asked my husband and I if we would be participants in something called a Kingdom Assignment. They get members of the parish community to accept a challenge. They give about 25 parishioners a 100 dollar bill with three stipulations: 1. That it is God’s money; 2. that you go out into the community and do something good with the money; and 3. that you report back to the church the results.

So when we decided to accept the Kingdom Assignment and thought about what we could do for our project, during that time out community lost a couple of teenage boys to suicide and a lot of the local teens were grieving, and families and my husband and I were trying to think of ways to help the teens get through this grief. So, we were aware of the Highmark Caring Place in Pittsburgh that supports grieving children and has for the past 15 years now. Our first thought was it would be great if Indiana had a similar program here to offer support to children who are grieving so the families wouldn’t have to make the travel to Pittsburgh and we would have a local program. So we decided that that would be our Kingdom Assignment.

Question: What is the need for this in Indiana?

Answer: I want to give you a statistic. One in 20 children will lose a parent before he or she is 18 years old. That’s a national statistic. Many more will lose a sibling or grandparent. So, that means to us locally that approximately 158 children in our area will lose someone close to them this year alone.

Really there are programs for grief support for adults, but there is no program in our area for children and their families so this is a unique program to this area. And, like I said, the closest one to us would be the Caring Place in Pittsburgh … there were families that made the travel to Pittsburgh, loved the program and benefited greatly from it, but the travel was difficult with young children in the evenings when they have homework and sports activities.

Question: What area do you cover?

Answer: All of Indiana County, eastern Armstrong and Westmorland counties and southern Jefferson County.

Question: How many workers/volunteers are involved in the program?

Answer: Right now we have about 30 trained volunteers. We do trainings twice a year and our program is very heavily volunteer-based. We estimate our volunteers have donated 2,400 hours of their time this past year in working with grieving children.

The Kiwanis are very supportive, and our biggest supporter monetarily, by donations, has been the Key Club at the high school, which is the high school version of Kiwanis. They have risen close to $20,000 for us in the past two years. Without their help, it would be hard to move forward with fundraising. They are instrumental in raising funds for us each year and it’s such a huge thing for us.

Question: So can anyone become a volunteer?

Answer: Yes. As long as you are at least 21 years of age, have a heart for working with children, and we do require three clearances for our volunteers.

There are various ways of volunteering, but if you are going to be what we call a group facilitator, and you are working directly in the groups with the children or parents, then we require 20 hours of training and that training is offered twice a year.

We also have opportunities for volunteers to get involved in other ways, such as helping us fundraise. We’ve had some support through IUP with a couple of departments that had students come in and help us set up our websites. They can also be greeters at the session and greet the families or they can be food servers and help set up.

Question: What do you do if you see a child that you think needs help?

Answer: I would urge people in the community if they know somebody who has experienced a loss, a child who has lost a parent, sibling, grandparent, to recommend Hopeful Hearts to that family, because we at Hopeful Hearts cannot contact families directly. They must contact us. People in the community could offer the information to someone that may not know that our program is here for them and they can call our office.

Question: I know that some funeral homes do the grief support programs. Do they work with your program at all?

Answer: The funeral homes, actually some of them in town, are putting our brochures in their packets that they put together for their clients, so that they are aware our program exists. So they are partnering with us in a way so they will refer them to us.

And because what they offer is more based on the adults and their groups are not serving or helping children specifically as ours, so that’s why we are completely offering something different than what they offer.

Question: Where are you located?

Answer: Our program is out of the second floor of Grace United Methodist Church and Grace Church has been wonderful in supporting this program by donating program space every other Tuesday evening throughout the school calendar year, when we have our program, and they also donate across the street, the second floor of the building they own for our offices. Without those donations, we would not be able to run because obviously we wouldn’t be able to afford our own space.

Question: I know you are partially funded by Highmark. How did that work out?

Answer: When we contacted the Caring Place back in 2008, when I had the idea to bring a program similar to their program here, the first step was to meet with the Caring Place staff and they gave us a tour of their beautiful facility. Afterwards they set down with us and they explained the philosophy, how they work with children, peer support groups, which is not counseling, but the volunteers in the program actually facilitate opportunities to guide the group to open up to each other and talk about their losses, experiences, memories of the person they lost, and in doing that they are supporting each other through their grief journeys.

So after we met with them and they did advise us that there was grant funding available through Highmark Healthy High 5, which is an initiative of the Highmark Foundation. That initiative covers various areas of children ... So we are just coming up to the end of that two-year period this December. Now, with that in mind, because we are nearing the end of that grant period, we need to remain self-sustaining beyond that grant. So we are looking at other grant opportunities, we are looking for the community to help support us through donations — monetary, in kind — to help sustain the program through 10 years.

Question: Do you get a lot of help through donations from the community?

Answer: We get a lot of help, yes. We have received in-kind donations from the community for office space, program space, our utilities are paid. Most all of our office furnishings and equipment have been donated and many of our office supplies and program supplies have been donated. But we also need monetary donations to cover our expenses. There is always things we need from the community, such as restaurants to donate a meal for our families because as part of our program, we do serve our families a meal prior to the group session.

Question: So the sessions are more like activities?

Answer: An example of a typical session night would be the families arrive at 6 o’clock in the evening and they will begin the evening with a light meal. After which they will move into small groups according to their age — and the groups are preschool through teen — they will participate in activities that allow them to safely explore and share their experiences, feelings and memories of the person who has died.

While the children are meeting, the parents are also meeting in their own support group and what the parents are doing is also sharing their experiences and supporting each other in helping their children cope with the death.

Question: It’s good that there is support for the parents also. I would imagine that it’s pretty difficult to see your child grieve?

Answer: It’s pretty difficult because they are not only dealing with their loss, but they have to help their children and sometimes it’s hard to just get through a day.

Question: So you’ve been open over a year now right?

Answer: We started the program in the spring of 2009 and we break for summers, so we actually starting in spring of ’09, broke for the summer, started again in the fall of ’09, went through to summer 2010 and we will start up again Sept. 28 … and we’ll end the first week of June.

Question: What have you learned since you’ve opened the program?

Answer: I think the most important thing that I’ve taken away from learning all about this is that children need to be supported in grieving because just because a child seems to be surviving after a death, does not mean they are thriving and with the support of a program such as ours, a child can be expected to have increased resiliency, to reduce feelings of isolation, alienation and loneliness, have increased coping skills and improved self-esteem. I think it’s important for the community to know that giving children this opportunity for support can help circumvent some behavioral problems that might arise later in life due to the death.

Question: You wouldn’t think most people would connect events later in life with the death.

Answer: No you wouldn’t and I think sometimes people think our society feels like “oh, we’ll give you a year, you should be over it and move on.” Sometimes people in our society feel uncomfortable about talking about grief because they don’t want to upset the person, they don’t really know the right thing to say, so sometimes they avoid the person, so even though the person may need support, typically they don’t get it from the surrounding people in their life. That’s what Hopeful Hearts provides. A safe and caring environment where they can talk about their feelings and experiences in a very safe, nurturing environment where we gently companion them through their grief journey.

I went recently to a grief seminar and the speaker said sometimes the grief can be worse the second year and a lot of times people think, oh, it’s been a year, I should be over it, what’s wrong with me, and really there is nothing wrong. It’s just the normal grief process.

Question: What should parents be looking for?

Answer: Are the children able to talk about the death? Some children totally just clam up and they won’t ever talk about the death and all their feelings are just bottled up inside.

Are they acting out more often since the death? Are the grades slipping?

Do they seem depressed, sad, crying a lot? Children grieve differently than adults. Children grieve, they call it, in bursts. They can be playing and happy one minute and the next minute they can be sad and crying and it can be that quickly.

So you want to look for signs like that. And it could be a recent death or it could be years. Grief is actually a spiral, so sometimes you’re doing well, it’s not in your face, things are going along well and then something will trigger your grief feelings and they’ll come to the forefront and you’ll have a bad day. Or you’ll remember the anniversary of the death, or a song will come on the radio and it will remind you of that person. It could be anything so all of a sudden that grief is there in your face and then it will subside again and then it will come back.

And as a child grows up there are milestones in their life, such as graduating high school, going to prom, getting married, going to college. All of these milestones that you think “I wish my parent were here to help me through this or see me excel at this or reach this accomplishment.” Grieving can really expand throughout a child’s life.

Question: What’s coming for the future of Hopeful Hearts?

Answer: We are looking to self-sustain, so we are working diligently on a fundraising plan, which will include probably at least one major fundraising event next year. And we’ll keep you posted on that. We are in the planning stages right now. We are also looking for donations from the community, so we are approaching individuals to help.

Question: Are there specific things that people can do to help?

Answer: We do have a wish list of things that we always need for the program. Supplies for activities that the children do. Sometimes their activities are more of a discussion type and sometimes they are more of a craft or something that they are making. So we do have — especially for the really young ones — paints and markers and crayons. We are always needing paper and arts and crafts kinds of supplies.

With us feeding the volunteers and families, we are always looking for restaurants and businesses to donate food. We generally bring in food, we don’t cook it ourselves.

Question: Is there an actual list they can look at?

Answer: They can contact our office for ways to help. Ways to volunteer or ways to donate in kind.

Diane Giever. at a glance....
Job: Founder of Hopeful Hearts
Age: 53
Residence: Indiana
Where I grew up: Forrest Hills, a suburb of Pittsburgh
Family: Husband, Dennis Giever, a professor at IUP; two daughters, Danielle, 18, a freshman at IUP, and Desirae, an eighth-grader at Indiana
Hobbies: I hike every day with my dogs.
Favorite food: Sushi
Food I refuse to eat: Veal
Favorite movie: “On Golden Pond”
Last book I read: “Eat Pray Love,” by Elizabeth Gilbert
Favorite way to spend a day: With my family
Pet peeve: People texting or talking on cell phones when they are driving
Life goal: To strive to keep Hopeful Hearts a continuing program
Something most people don’t know about me: I’m a certified scuba diver.

 

 

 

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Colossians 3:15

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful."


Scripture reminds us to be thankful for those who have been such a blessing in our lives.

During this Thanksgiving we are grateful to God for Him bringing us the blessing of you. May God richly bless your family during these Holydays!

- Denny and Leesa Bellesi -

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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