In Times of Grief And Loss, Hospice Is There

boy-984313Genuine, compassionate, and flexible. These words only begin to capture our partner, Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. Thanks to its work with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, hundreds and hundreds of Kalamazoo Public School students have benefited from its school-based grief groups. Since 2006, Hospice Board members, administrators and therapists have been committed to providing students with a grief counselor who is highly skilled at engaging students from diverse backgrounds who are grieving due to terminal illness or death of a loved one, loss of their home, divorce, incarceration or foster care.

This school-based service, which will touch almost 100 students this school year, offers hope and better ways of coping with the losses they have experienced. One student, struggling with the death of her mother, saw her grades drop to the point she felt paralyzed with grief and hopelessness. “I didn’t care about anything,” she said. “I gave up easily…I wasn’t doing my work and was behind on credits.” She took what she saw as her only available option and dropped out of high school. She almost became a statistic. Almost.

KPS staff did a great job of convincing this young woman to return to school and to get connected with CIS. The school’s CIS Site Coordinator connected her with a grief & loss group offered by Hospice. The student credited the work she did in the weekly groups with therapist Cate Jarvis with helping her get back on track to graduate. As the oldest child in a parentless family, she recognized that the best way to honor her mother’s memory is to make sure that her little brothers and sisters attend school regularly and do their homework so they too can graduate and take advantage of The Kalamazoo Promise®.

It’s a fact: healthier children make better students—including emotional health as well as physical health. Research proves that addressing children’s health needs is associated with positive school outcomes. When students’ health needs are met, studies find increases in academic achievement, decreases in incidence of problem behaviors, improvement in the relationships that surround each child, and positive changes in school and classroom climates.

lonely-928656But access to these needed services is often an obstacle. When it comes to the delivery of health services—or any of the critical resources our partners provide—location matters. Transportation is often a barrier for many of the students served through CIS. Keeping appointments outside of the school setting can pose a hardship for families. School-based health services are a growing trend throughout the country. Approximately 75% of children who receive some type of mental health service receive it in schools.

We are grateful to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan and to all of our partners who work with us, investing their time, expertise, and resources to change the landscape of healthcare delivery for our children.

We continue to be thankful for the Kalamazoo Public Schools. It is through their home and heart that many of these vital student needs are identified.

Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan guides and supports individuals (and their caregivers) coping with illness, aging, dying, and loss by providing an array of supports and services, grief support like Journeys, a free program for children and teens which is offered at their Oakland Centre facility (2255 West Centre Avenue in Portage). If you know a child or a teenager who is hurting because of the death of a loved one, Journeys can help. To find out more, go here.

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, What’s The Ugliest Lie Of All?

uglysweaterOne of my colleagues kept suggesting I write an ugly post to remind folks to come out to our Ugly Sweater Party with the Young Professionals that is going on later this afternoon, Tuesday, December 9 at Old Burdicks Bar & Grill. 5-7pm. I told them no. “Admission is free with minimum $10 donation or a new item from the Wish List,” they’d remind me.

“I’m coming to the party,” I said. “But I DO NOT WANT TO WRITE AN UGLY POST.” But they didn’t seem to take the hint and kept nudging. I must admit, we’re all pretty good about that at CIS.  About not letting go or giving up when we believe in something. Especially when it comes to kids. (There must be something in the water here because it is a trait we share with Kalamazoo Public School teachers, staff, administrators and countless community partners and volunteers.) So, buckle up.

Here comes ugly.

That’s what he said. It feels like I heard that a thousand times as a young girl. For the first two of my school age years, I walked to my friend’s house, waited while she finished breakfast so we could walk safely together to school. My friend’s father would regularly tease me, say, “How are you doing, Ugly?” Or “Hey, everyone, here comes Ugly!” I didn’t say anything to my parents or teachers. I was embarrassed because a part of me believed him. I did have a huge gap in my front teeth. So big it felt like a car could drive through it. And why did I agree to that stupid shag haircut in first grade? What other classmates looked like Mrs. Brady?

Kindergarten picture, pre-shag haircut

 

Fortunately for me, my friend and her family moved after a few years. I also have a pretty strong ego. (My husband complains that it’s too strong.) And it didn’t hurt that I was accidently born into a family that could pay to close my gap with braces, that I had opportunities outside of school to feel good about myself. Mostly, I got over the ugly because of caring adults. This experience, though, is one of the things that drew me to CIS. It took a while to believe in myself, for a host of caring adults, like my parents, an orthodontist, two piano teachers, and a slew of fine school teachers to wipe away the ugly. It left a scar I’m content to bear—it’s made me hyper-focused on all the ugly things children hear along the way. The messages we send—intentional or not—that seep into their psyche until they believe the ugly.

Here is the ugliest truth of all: too many of our kids lose hope in themselves every day. Kids  who have come to believe they are nothing but a bad grade, who feel as empty as their tummies, and begin to believe that theKalamazoo Promise® isn’t for kids like them.

It’s hard to take in all this ugly. But we owe it to our kids to hang in there with them and give them hope. Every day, our CIS Site teams along with hundreds of volunteers and school and community partners are doing just that. Here’s just one great example of the kind of beauty that cuts at ugly:

When Kalamazoo Central High School identified some young men with patterns of missing school, skipping classes, academics slipping—clear warning signs that these students were at risk of dropping out—CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough jumped into action and started meeting with each student to connect them to a men’s group. Some of them told her: “It’s no use. I’ve messed up too badly. What’s the point? The Promise isn’t for kids like me.”

“Just come once,” she said. “Promise me that.” And they did. Again and again because CIS partner, Pastor James Harris and his team were surrounding these young men with love, speaking to each, as Nelson Mandela says, “in his own language, that goes not to his head but his heart.” So the site coordinator wasn’t surprised, when one day Pastor James dragged a bag of trash into the group.

“What’s this?” he asked the young men.

“Trash,” they said.

“You sure?” he replied.

The young men realized that they couldn’t be sure, not until they searched through it. Turns out, mixed in with all that trash was a 100 dollar bill Pastor James had tucked inside an envelope. The lesson learned that day? Despite missteps along the way, value resides inside each of them and they do not need to throw their life away.

This is the kind of beauty that CIS Site Coordinators are orchestrating every day. Putting just the right resources—volunteers like Pastor James, Kalamazoo College students, or a grief therapist from Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan—with the right kids at the right time. They do an awesome job of it and kids can’t help but stumble into their own beauty.

But the ugly side of this same coin is that we need more people to step up. Todonate, volunteer, and partner. To advocate for both integrated student services and stable and adequate school funding.

So, if you have survived this ugly ride, thanks for hanging in there. Come on down to Burdick’s and hang out with us from 5-7pm. Bring a donation of $10 or some newclothing item for CIS Kids’ Closet (packs of underwear, winter boots, and sweats especially needed). They’ll be plenty of food, fun, and prizes for the ugliest sweaters. (I even hear that Burdick’s is making a signature drink for CIS!)

And, if you didn’t like this ugly post, I don’t want to hear it. Stop downtown at Burdick’s and let my colleague know. (You can’t miss her. She’ll be the one wearing an ugly sweater.)

Can’t make it? We understand. It’s a busy time. We just ask that you take a moment to consider making a donation to CIS. No matter the amount, your contribution takes a bite out of ugly. ‘Tis the season after all. No matter what form of action you choose to take, it reminds our children—and all of us—that they are a treasure worth fighting for. That is one beautiful message that will never go out of season.