Groups ease children’s grief
Losing a family member can be tough at any age, but what if you’re just a kid? Karina Abadia sat down with Jillian Alexander to talk about the rewards of running grief and loss peer support groups.
They might be facing the death of someone close to them, a family member going to jail, or their parents getting divorced but the resilience of children never ceases to amaze Jillian Alexander.
The Three Kings resident has been the co-ordinator of Seasons Onehunga, which runs peer support groups for children and teens, for the past four years.
‘‘I have a passion for making a difference,’’ she says.
‘‘I’d come from having some time overseas and before that I was a school counsellor.
‘‘I was looking for something that aligned with my counselling skills.’’
The 58-year-old is responsible for running some of the group sessions as well as providing ongoing training to the volunteers or ‘ companions’ who work as programme facilitators.
She also liaises with school staff, social workers, community members and other branch coordinators.
The two-month programme is held once a week at schools within the central area.
Groups are kept to five or six students of a similar age who have all suffered significant grief or loss.
But they aren’t counselling sessions, Alexander says.
‘‘The idea is that children can learn to support each other.
‘‘They have a place to talk about the issues and the often complex feelings they have as a result of the situations they’re in.
‘‘We look at ways they can take care of themselves and the safe people they can go to in the community. They are resourced in a way that they wouldn’t necessarily otherwise be.’’
The activity-based programme helps participants open up, Alexander says.
‘‘You might take a Coke bottle and shake it. Then you’ll say: ‘ I’m going to let this lid off now’.
‘‘The kids say: ‘ Oh no, don’t do that because you’re going to make a mess’.’’
‘‘You might let the lid off slowly and they can hear the bottle hiss or you’ll let it off in a hurry and it’ll go everywhere and everyone will laugh.
‘‘Then you’ll say: ‘In what situations are you like a Coke bottle?’
‘‘And you talk about strategies to help diffuse anger.’’
It’s exciting seeing young people grow through the process, Alexander says.
The programme is a back up for families, she says.
‘‘Often family members are grieving themselves or are too involved to know how to support these children.
‘‘That’s why they need another place to come.’’
Sourcing funding is the biggest challenge to the role.
But it helps that the community is so supportive, she says.
‘‘The number of adults you talk to who say: ‘I wish I had this when I was young. I lost my mum or my dad or my brother.
‘‘I could never talk about it and it’s affected me my whole life’.’’
Alexander is looking for new volunteer companions.
Email seasonsonehunga@ gmail.com for information.
Seasons Onehunga has been nominated for the Z Energy Royal Oak ‘Good in the Hood’ competition. You can help Seasons receive a donation by casting your vote in store before May 31.
Seasons Onehunga co-ordinator Jillian Alexander.