Adam’s House: Offering Grief Support for Our ChildrenJul 31, 2019 07:14PM ● By Ariana Fine
In 2011, Allison Wysota’s husband, Adam, died suddenly at the age of 47 from a heart attack. In seeking help to cope with her own mourning, as well as the grief of their three young boys, she found that available support groups did not provide the continuity her family needed. Often, groups would have an open schedule where kids and parents could drop in. This meant Wysota’s children would form connections only to have to retell their story and relive their grief with new children when others stopped attending after a couple of weeks. She sought a closed-group program that had structure, stability and a longer commitment that would enable them to build trust, lasting connections and better support.
After searching for an established Connecticut-based program, Wysota instead found inspiration in Olivia’s House, a decades-old grief-focused program in Pennsylvania. She decided to found The Adam Wysota Foundation’s Adam’s House (AdamsHouseCT.org) in 2017 as a local peer-supported grief and education center. Olivia’s House (OliviasHouse.org) continues to help the Adam’s House program with mentoring, curriculum and volunteer training.
“Children lose a piece of themselves when someone close to them passes away,” says Sarah Domena, director of community outreach for Adam’s House. “All of sudden, they don’t have that sense of connection with their friends and peers because others don’t understand what they are going through. Adam’s House enables them to connect with other kids going through similar losses and emotions.”
The Adam’s House programs are offered at no cost for children and their parents/guardians. The organization tries to put children with similar “situations” together in groups if possible, such as those grieving a sibling who passed away. In this closed-ended education model, families are interviewed by staff and specialists before committing to the program to better understand their situation. If additional therapy or grief counseling is needed, Adam’s House’s professional staff will refer out to other organizations and practitioners.
The organization’s professional staff has expertise in counseling, social work and education, so they oversee group volunteers. Groups are led by FIGs, or “Friends in Grief,” who undergo a three-day volunteer training session to learn how to ensure that the group sessions are peer-led. Many volunteers are parents of children who have undergone similar trauma or work in the fields of health care, social services or education. FIGs gain additional knowledge about how children deal with the grieving process and how to provide them with a comfortable, safe place to express themselves.
Each program night, the families get to know each other over dinner. Afterward, while the children are upstairs in age-appropriate groups, the adult parents, grandparents, guardians or caregivers have their own peer support group downstairs. They learn ways to offer support to the grieving children and how to model their own grief in an age-appropriate manner. As part of the curriculum, game, art, music and play activities focused on each week’s theme encourage the children to share thoughts and emotions related to their grief. With the two-month commitment model, the group members feel more secure and safe to reveal their grief to new friends. To inspire a point of relevancy and connection with the children, the adults work on a similar weekly project. For instance, during the memories-focused week, both groups create a box with pictures and mementos about the person that passed away. It was meant to spark a conversation about what was included in the boxes, why it was important and how it makes each of them feel, says Domena.
The organization even has a space where children can record video messages to those they have lost or to express their emotions in a safe environment. After the eight-week program, every program alumnus is invited to connection events two to three times a year to continue to receive support.
Adam’s House also offers the Moving Forward Social Group for Widows and Widowers. There are volunteer opportunities available for FIGs, professional service providers, community ambassadors and others to help with the organization’s support mission.
Adam’s House is located at 241 Coram Ave, Shelton. For more information, call 203-518-2808, email [email protected] or visit AdamsHouseCT.com. Adam’s House is holding a fundraising event with Francine Clausen, a psychic medium, during the weekend of September 28. Group and individual readings will be available. Open to the public, tickets can be purchased at AdamsHouseCT.org.
Ariana Fine is a writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings Fairfield/Housatonic Valley. She resides in Stratford with her family.