Hug Their Hearts

Erin’s House for Grieving Children asks for community support for Children’s Grief Awareness Day.
Nov 5, 2019
Jennifer Blomquist
Jeffrey Crane & provided

You can do it by wearing something blue. You can do it by spendng time with a child who has exprienced death. You can do it by making a donation to Erin’s House.

“There are lots of ways you can observe Children’s Grief Awareness Day on Nov. 21,” says Debbie Meyer, executive director of Erin’s House for Grieving Children in Fort Wayne. “Sometimes we just forget that children around us are grieving and this is a day to remember them.”

Meyer says Children’s Grief Awareness Day was created in 2008 through the National Alliance for Grieving Children. The organization designated November as Children’s Grief Awareness Month and the third Thursday of the month (Nov. 21) as the Grief Awareness Day.

According to the Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (CBEM), one in 12 children in Indiana will experience the death of a parent or sibling by the age of 18. The national statistic is one in 14.

“At Erin’s House, we offer peer-to-peer support for any child who is grieving the death of a loved one,” says Meyer. “We are the only stand-alone children’s grief center in the state of Indiana.”

Erin’s House was founded in 1993 in honor of Erin Farragh, who died of unknown causes just two months before her sixth birthday. Her distraught parents were unable to find any support groups to help Erin’s younger siblings cope with her death.

“It’s easy to forget that a child is grieving because they don’t always show their sadness,”
says Meyer. “But the truth is, kids love to hear stories about their loved one and they will talk if you open up to them. They don’t like to hear people

say, ‘I’m sorry…,’ instead, use concrete phrases like, ‘I’m so sad your mom died.’ And sometimes, just giving them a hug is what they need.”

On Nov. 21, Meyer and the staff at Erin’s House encourage everyone to wear the color blue in honor of grieving children.

“We’re also asking businesses in downtown Fort Wayne to turn on blue lights in honor of the Grief Awareness Day,” says Ashley Kipfer, Marketing & Communications Coordinator. “Last year, it was great. Several downtown locations were lit up with blue lights including the MLK Bridge, Parkview Field, Lincoln Tower and the Ash Building.”

Located next to the YMCA off St. Joe Center Road on the city’s northeast side, Erin’s House sits on 8 ½ acres of picturesque land. The setting is both beautiful and serene and ironically, what most people think would be a sad place to visit, is actually full of positive energy and happiness.

“We have a lot of fun here,” says Meyer. “We have more than 800 individuals from northeast Indiana come here every month for support services and over 150 volunteers. There are different rooms throughout the house to address the different emotions grieving children experience. One room is where they can safely ‘go crazy’ and get out their aggressions by ripping newspapers and magazines and throwing soft pillows. Another room is gently lit with twinkly lights and gives kids a chance to experience quiet time. We also offer camps.”

 “We do a lot of typical camp things, like ropes courses and climbing walls, but we also bring in the Erin’s House element to it,” says Cindy Maldonado-Schaefer, director of operations. “We offer three different camps throughout the year: a teen retreat, a middle-school age camp and a family camp. We are very intentional with every activity we provide. It allows the kids and families a concentrated time to connect with peers and each other. And it also gives them a chance to express and feel that roller coaster of emotions that is grief.”

Ever since its inception 26 years ago, Erin’s House has been a tremendous success and viewed as a huge blessing to children in northeast Indiana. 

The numbers reflect those sentiments.

“We’ve been at our current location for six years now,” says Meyer. “We used to be in a strip mall on the southwest end of town. Our new facility is 14,500 square feet and cost $2.75 million to build. We were able to raise all of the money in nine months. We walked into this beautiful place without having a mortgage, which means all of the donations we receive can go directly to helping the kids. That speaks volumes about the incredible generosity and kindness in our community. Everything we offer is free, no one pays anything to come to Erin’s House. And there’s no way to put a price on the value of helping a grieving child.”  

Erin’s House for Grieving Children

Address: 5670 YMCA Park Drive West Fort Wayne, Indiana 46835

Phone: (260) 423-2466

Website: ErinsHouse.org

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