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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Local program helps youth deal with grief

Since its foundation in 2001, the Stepping Stones support program has helped children and teens that have experienced the death of a loved one face their grief and begin the healing process.

Organized by the Yolo Hospice, program participants meet in a group setting twice a month to learn how to acknowledge their loss and to develop coping skills. The program provides a supportive community of peers, all of whom have experienced some type of loss. Denise Rose, bereavement services manager for the Yolo Hospice, said that having grief in common makes it easier for the kids to open up about their thoughts and emotions.

Rose said that right now the Stepping Stones program is in the process of expanding. So far the children and teen groups have been successful, and the Yolo Hospice also runs programs for adults and children ages three to five. However, there is no program for young adults, specifically individuals aged 18 to 25.

“They don’t fit in to the adult group,” Rose said, “but they aren’t teenagers either.”

The Yolo Hospice has designated space for the group, and hopes to have it up and running by April.

The program currently offers two different sessions: the children’s group, for kids aged six to 12 and the teens group for older kids aged 12 to 17. Beginning in March, the groups will meet on alternating Thursdays.

Aja Michael, the Stepping Stones program coordinator, described the sessions as starting with an opening circle, followed by unstructured play time and then ending with a closing circle.

According to Michael, during the opening circle participants are asked to say their name, age, the name of the person who has died as well as how that person died. The kids are also invited to describe a favorite memory of the deceased, or to say what the hardest part about the death has been for them.

“The kids are encouraged to respond,” Michael said, “but they don’t have to. It’s up to them.”

Michael explained that one of the goals is to create a safe environment where the kids do not feel pressured into participating. She also said that it is part of the healing process to have them make their own decisions, including how to spend their unstructured play time.

For the children’s group, kids have the ability to choose from puppets, a sand tray, costumes, arts and crafts, Legos or blocks. Teens can play music, or can pursue art, journaling, poetry, games or physical activity. Some prefer to just hang out and talk.

In order to participate in the Stepping Stones program, children and their families must register and attend an orientation. Meetings take place on alternate Thursdays from 6 to 7:30 p.m. More information can be obtained by visiting yolohospice.org/steppingstones.php or by calling (530) 601-5756.

CHLOE BREZSNY can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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