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Welcome to the next installment in our “Who Gives a Chip?” series, which celebrates the everyday heroes in our community. Their passion, and commitment to ‘giving a chip,’ inspires us, and we hope it will do the same for you.

The Cove Center for Grieving Children is an organization out of Meriden, CT whose mission is to “provide hope and healing for grieving children and teens.”  We spoke with Executive Director Mary Andersen about the great work that The Cove Center does!
1. How did The Cove Center for Grieving Children get its start?

In 1989, when Mary Emswiler died suddenly of heart failure at the age of 39, her husband Jim began a long struggle to find help for himself and his three young children. Finally, frustrated by the lack of available services for grieving families, he formed the New England Center for Loss and Transition with a two-fold mission: to train human service professionals on dying and grief, and to provide support services to adult grievers. The Cove Center for Grieving Children, a volunteer-driven program developed by the New England Center for Loss and Transition, was started in Guilford, Connecticut, in 1994 by Jim and his second wife, Mary Ann. After an exhaustive study of the best national models available, this program was designed to help children deal with grief. The Cove was separately incorporated as a 501 (c)(3) organization in 1998.

Beginning with 6 families in the first year, the program developed a solid working model that has steadily grown, and has been used as a model in six other states. Today, in its 21st year of service, there are 7 Cove sites throughout the state serving hundreds of grieving children and family members through regular support sessions. The Cove Family Program Model is not therapy, but is therapeutic. We provide peer support sessions for children and teens ages 4-18 years of age and education for their parent/caregivers. 70% of our activities are arts-based, to help children communicate their feelings, understand their grieving process, and find pathways to hope and healing. Our Cove in Schools programming is a “train the trainer” model that serves children in schools and trains facilitators such as school counselors and teachers to allow the program to be run on its own by the school, after the initial sessions are completed. The Cove also offers an outreach program that touches an additional 1,000 individuals in the state of Connecticut each year through community education, professional training, consultation, and referral.

In response to the tragedy in Newtown, The Cove was approached by The Moyer Foundation to provide a 3-day bereavement camp experience for grieving children as part of a nationwide network of over 42 camps. After its first year as Camp Erin Newtown, the vision of the camp expanded to reach all children in Connecticut. Camp Erin Connecticut now serves close to 100 grieving children each year, ages 6-17 years of age, who are grieving the death of a loved one.

2. What kinds of things do you do each day, and how do those things contribute to the organization’s overall goals?

The Cove Coordinating Office does all intakes and referral for Cove Programming statewide. We interview families and volunteers for Cove programming and send out supportive materials for families, schools and community organizations. We seek to develop new programming and expand our reach to serve more children each year. We also work to raise funds for the organization through grant writing, requests for donations, and giving campaigns, allowing us to provide our services free of charge for children and families, and trainings for professionals at greatly reduced fees. We interview and train new volunteers so that they can support our 7 Cove Satellite Sites and Camp Erin CT. We are a small staff that accomplishes a lot in a day, including program support and development, community outreach, website updates that provide information and resources for grieving children and families, and referrals for service.

3. What is the hardest part of what you do?

Hearing about tragic death situations and the struggles of grieving children and families can be difficult. We are honored to work with the families that seek out our services, and understand the profound loss that many are experiencing.

4. What makes it all worth it to you?

Being there to help with a successful program model is very gratifying. We see children helping children, parents helping other parents – sharing their stories and providing a safe place to talk about their deepest feelings. Helping children to honor the memory of their loved ones, while working to ensure that they avoid the negative outcomes of unresolved grief, makes it all worthwhile. Also, seeing the change in children over time as they attend the program, having the opportunity to speak with families who have gone through The Cove, hearing their testimonials on the power of the program, and the positive impact that it has had on their lives.

5. What would you tell someone who is looking to make a difference in their community?

The Cove Center for Grieving Children is a volunteer-driven program, and we would not be able to reach as many families and children without their hard work, dedication, and caring. If you are looking to make a difference in your community, look for opportunities to volunteer; you will make a big difference for the organization that you are supporting and in the lives of those who receive services. Many of our volunteers have been in The Cove program themselves and are able to “pay it forward” to others who are grieving with the knowledge and tools that they have gained through their participation.

To learn more about The Cove Center or to get involved, please visit their website.


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