A grief support center for children recently opened in Newark.
Imagine started in a Union County church basement in 2011, by a person that understood what it was like to lose a loved one at an early age.
“I had been a child in grief. My father died when I was 14,” said Mary Robinson, executive director of Imagine. The organization is now headquartered out of a dedicated center in Mountainside.
“Imagine started because I wanted to create a place where kids could get the support right at the time of their loss and not lose years of their life to unresolved grief like my brother and I did,” she said.
Robinson says childhood bereavement is a serious public health issue in New Jersey, over 109 thousand children ages 0-18 have had a parent die.
“The need for support is enormous. We are one of four grief support centers in the state. We are serving over 380 children and adults right now at our centers in Mountainside and in Newark.”
The Imagine program is free for families in grief.
“Our families come every two weeks for a night of support,” said Jamie Saltamachia, program associate with Imagine. She says they serve the families dinner before breaking off into an opening circle where families choose to participate.
“At Imagine we say you can always pass. So, if a family member is not comfortable or doesn’t want to say anything, they are more than welcome to pass. We invite them to say their name and also the name of the person that died. At that point it normalizes that grief experience, so they realize they are not the only ones going through their grief,” she said. “There’s a group for parents who are grieving the loss of a child and theirs a group for parents that are grieving the loss of a partner or spouse. The children are put into groups based on their developmental age.”
Imagine program associates and facilitators don’t council grieving families, especially when it comes to the kids
“They do talk through play,” said Chantaya King, a volunteer facilitator from Newark. “I have witnessed it in the last two nights that we had where the children are playing, and they’ll talk about their grief. They’re also supporting each other. I am there to be a guide, listen to them, help them walk through that journey, and know that a safe adult is here to be there for them.”
Imagine Newark program director Jacelyn Matthews says they offer grief training to volunteers but strive to extend that advocacy beyond their facilities.
“We also go into schools and supply support as well,” she said. “We’ll go in and do education with students by helping them understand what grief is, how to find other people that can support them while they’re grieving, and to support other students in their grade as well. After the grief education they can self-identify if they want to be part of a grief support group in their school.”
Imagine is hosting its official kickoff event for its new center in Newark on May 16 at Achieve Community Charter School from 5-6PM.