Tracy Gyllenhammer has a personal tie into the support of grieving children. A Colbert resident, her first husband died in 2004 when their sons were 4 and 6.
Gyllenhammer said that experience motivated her to launch a grief support nonprofit, R.I.S.E. Northwest – the acronym standing for Resilience Is Strength and Endurance. Starting in early October, she hopes its Spokane services will fill a void by offering free support programs for children and teens who are grieving the loss of a parent.
Serving ages 5-18, the nonprofit is offering two separate programs: Team R.I.S.E. and Camp Cope, with no-cost enrollment now open. Both have a built-in peer focuses, because grief will be a lifelong journey for children who mourn a parent, Gyllenhammer said.
“Peers let children know they’re not alone, because as a society, we don’t talk about grief,” Gyllenhammer said. “They sometimes think they’re the only one who has lost a parent. It lets them know they are not alone and takes out that isolation.
“We believe mentoring and peer support are the first steps in a lifelong grieving journey, especially for kids losing a parent. Kids have a harder time as they go through life milestones, when they graduate high school, go off to college, get married. Our hope is to really cultivate lifelong relationships with mentors and peers.”
Team R.I.S.E. begins 6:30 p.m. Oct. 3 at St. Thomas More School, 515 W. St. Thomas More Way, with one-hour sessions every other Monday until next year, when it goes weekly. Children will get recreational and educational activities by age groups. It’s designed to build longtime relationships as well as resilience and strength.
By 2023, the plan is to offer Team R.I.S.E. each Monday at alternating locations: the first and third Mondays at St. Mary Catholic Church, 304 S. Adams Road, in Spokane Valley and the second and fourth Mondays at St. Thomas More. Children can go to all, or even once a month.
The first Camp Cope session is set for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 10 at Summit U-District, also a church at 1003 E. Trent Ave., and participants will be asked to attend all eight sessions held every other week, so spanning a 16-week period. It follows an evidence-based curriculum developed by the nonprofit, Adam’s Place, a 2009-founded grief support center in Las Vegas.
Each Camp Cope session is one hour, and trained facilitators will lead peer groups, encouraging kids and teens to express feelings that are part of the healing process. A team of child life specialists working with Adam’s Place selected all the camp activities for age-appropriate objectives to decrease isolation and increase self-confidence and build resiliency.
“Next year and going forward, we’ll offer Camp Cope in February through May, and it will be held once a year,” Gyllenhammer said.
“Camp Cope is very structured and we do ask kids to commit to the whole 16-week program. All facilitators are trained specifically in the Camp Cope program, because the difference is, it is an environment where we discuss a specific topic and then there are activities for that topic, whereas with Team R.I.S.E., we meet kids where they are at in the grieving and healing process – if they want to play basketball, we play basketball or chess. It’s more about building trust and lifelong, lasting relationships, fostering resilience and fostering that peer support.”
Both programs will serve some light food, such as pizza or a healthy snack, she said.
R.I.S.E. Northwest’s volunteers all have undergone background checks. They are trained in grief support and program material, but they aren’t therapists. A majority of the volunteers have experienced the death of parent or spouse, she said. Although the programs are hosted at churches, the nonprofit has no religious affiliation.
Gyllenhammer and her two sons had to work through a process of grieving and healing together. A couple of years after their father’s death, she connected with her sons’ basketball coach, Joe, whose wife had died. He was raising three young boys alone. They married, and together raised boys who now range in age 21-26.
When Gyllenhammer recently sold a business, she decided to see if she could support grieving children. She did some research and couldn’t find any such programs in Spokane, which led to R.I.S.E. Northwest.
“The No. 1 reason these programs are needed is, as a society we don’t talk about grief, and so I think there tends to be a lot of unresolved grief, specifically with children,” she said.
“Grief is very individualized; everybody grieves differently. I think Spokane is a very resource-rich community. We have so many programs for so many people. How and why is there not a program for kids’ grief when this affects one in 20 children?”
She said statistics indicate that bereaved children and teens are five times more likely to die by suicide. They also have higher rates of substance abuse, dropping out of school and having behavioral disorders.
“Especially with COVID, I think this topic is really more on people’s minds. You may think you don’t know anybody, but probably you do, because we don’t talk about grief.”
Although focuses might change in the future, right now the programs are geared only to a parent loss, she said, “because what we really want to do is to build that community of children losing a parent.”
Registrations can be done online at risenorthwest.org/register or by calling (509) 209-1112. For questions, email email@example.com.