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Hospital program offers HOPE to grieving children

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Many of the people directly affected by the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center have looked for and found different ways to grieve and communicate their sense of loss.

But where do children who have never experienced loss turn for guidance as they try to cope, express and understand their feelings?

The adult rituals and ways of dealing with the pain and grief associated with the loss of a loved one are not necessarily sufficient or even helpful to children and teenagers.

In an effort to meet the needs of children, Schneider Children’s Hospital, in conjunction with the Tennessee-based Baptist Memorial Health Care, announced the creation of The Center for HOPE (Healing, Opportunity, Perseverance, Enlightenment).

Based on the Baptist Memorial Heath Care’s model, Schneider’s new center will give children the opportunity to explore, examine and deal with their feelings of loss while enabling them to move forward in their lives. In addition to lending employees, volunteers and experts in bereavement to the Floral Park hospital, Baptist Memorial also donated $100,000 to help get the center up and running.

“Baptist Memorial Health Care’s outreach to Schneider Children’s Hospital both financially and professionally to assist bereaved families in this part of the country is enormously appreciated,” said Dr. Philip Lanzkowsky, chief of staff at Schneider. “We are pleased to utilize our combined experience to respond to the short and long-term emotional needs of our children, adolescents and their families in the aftermath of this tragedy and in the dark hour of our country’s history."

The Center for HOPE will provide grieving children and their families with age appropriate support groups, individual and/or family crisis intervention and short-term individual counseling. In addition, the center will offer community education, outreach to schools and camp programs. The camp will be similar to the Baptist Memorial’s version.

Children who lost a parent in Sept. 11 are already being treated at the facility.

The camp, said Angela Hamblen, director of Camp Good Grief and Baptist Trinity Hospital, started in 1999 and brings together children who have experienced the loss of a loved one. She said the idea was to give people with similar experiences the opportunity to interact with their peers who have had a similar experience.

“The Center for HOPE provides us with an outlet to be involved,” Scott Fountain, senior vice president of Baptist Memorial Health Care. “It allows us to be with you in spirit and hurt with you as well.”

Susan Thomas, bereavement coordinator at Schneider, said the goal of the center is to help children put their lives back on the right track. She said the program would work to help families unite and come together to work through their grief and sorrow.

She said many children do not share their feelings of loss and do not want to grieve in front of their parents because many feel the need to protect their mother or father. Many times, Thomas said, it is easier for children between 5 and 18 to open-up to a peer.

Peter Meade, chief of the Nassau County Fire and Rescue Service, said the reaction many adults and children are having to the Sept. 11 attack is normal. However, he said, helping children return to some sort of normalcy in their lives is vital. He highlighted “normalcy” because there is no way for the children who have lost a parent in the attack can have the same life again.

“Children need to have a sense of what is going on in their lives and begin to understand it,” he said. “If this project saves one child, it will be certainly well worth it.”

Michelle Villanueva, whose husband died on Jan. 16 of a stroke, said she has been trying to help her 7-year-old son deal with the loss. She said her husband first suffered a stroke on Dec. 26, her son’s birthday, and had been improving.

After he died, she said, it was not until she took her son for bereavement counseling at Schneider did he begin to open up and talk about the loss of his father.

“If you lose a piece of a puzzle, the puzzle can never be complete,” she said. “I encourage people to look towards the center to help them through their grief.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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