IT was a family tragedy that first nudged Shona into her work with Growing Through Grief, a support service for children who are experiencing change, grief or loss in their lives.

“I actually became involved through my children,” says Shona, who asks to withhold her surname for privacy reasons.

“So I had three children that grieved in three very different ways, and it was interesting to go through this programme and for them to have someone to share it with.”

Seeing the kind of work that was being done by the programme, and how it was positively affecting her own children, Shona jumped at the chance when a position opened up at a Rotorua location.

Eighteen months ago she became programme co-ordinator for the Whakatane district, bringing with her a background in nursing and, of course, personal experience.

Growing Through Grief provides a programme called Seasons For Growth, which addresses a variety of issues children may be facing, such as the death of a loved one, parental separation, divorce, imprisonment, terminal illness of a family member, and natural disasters, among others.

The programme is utilised both in schools and in after-school sessions, running for an hour a week over the course of nine weeks. Age appropriate groups are available for children and young people between six and 18 years old.

Seasons of Growth uses the four seasons as a metaphor for different experiences of grief, and this provides a framework within which participants can explore their experiences with others, develop skills and understanding, and restore self esteem and self confidence.

The social and emotional wellbeing of each child is strengthened in the safe atmosphere of small support groups led by trained volunteers called companions. A series of workbooks are used within the different age groups and the prompts and exercises facilitate difficult, but necessary conversations.

“So for autumn, we learn that life changes and that loss is a part of life,” Shona explains.

“Then we will learn about the different ways people experience change and loss.”

The activities help children identify the feelings they are experiencing, learn how these feelings can influence their behaviours, and also consider ways they can look after themselves by making good choices.

“I think it’s a brilliant programme; there’s nothing else like this programme around,” Shona says. “We have a lot of real positive feedback from children and parents.

“The biggest ones I’ve heard are that it has changed their lives; that the children are doing better in school because now they can better cope.

“As a mother, and as a worker, I’ve seen so many kids go through it and you can see that a weight has been lifted off them at the end. Or a light has been turned on and they can see a future and it’s positive.”

Growing Through Grief is provided by the Whakatane Anglican Methodist Parish through Anglican Care Waiapu. Although they have a wonderful support staff of volunteer companions, they are always after more people to join their team.

For more information, contact Whakatane co-ordinator, Shona, at 021 767 538 or Opotiki co-ordinator Denyse at 027 955 9837.

Advanced screening fundraiser

IN support of Growing Through Grief, Willetts Funeral Services is holding an advanced screening fundraiser of the New Zealand film Bellbird at Whakamax this Monday at 7.30pm, with the movie starting at 8.30pm.

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased from Willetts Funeral Services located on King Street, Whakatane. Purchase includes movie entry, nibbles, drinks and entry spot prizes.

Bellbird is the tale of a rural community that rallies together to help a farmer work through his grief after the passing of his wife.

“It came to our attention that Growing Through Grief was in need of funding,” says Steve Butler of Willetts Funeral Services. “In our line of work, we see the need and benefit of organisations like this.”

“We were told about the Bellbird movie and this seemed like a good fit. The movie is about dealing with loss and grief for an individual and a community and the relationships that form during this process – and it is a New Zealand Film.”

“Both Growing Through Grief and the movie are relatable to our industry so it made sense to bring the two together.”

Growing Through Grief and Willetts Funeral Services would like to thank Whakamax, the Beacon, and all the other local businesses who have supported them in this fundraising opportunity.