A Most Precious Gift
Posted: 2/1/19 by Michelle Fox (Administrative Director)
As we continue to adjust to the New
Year, it is always an exciting time to meet new and eager faces of volunteers
who are looking to jump-start their resolutions by giving back to the community.
One particular person, who now happens to wear many different volunteer hats at
Olivia’s House, entered through our doors seven years ago on a cold, January
day. His name is Gary Merica. Gary followed his passion to work with grieving
children and elected to attend our 12-hour Companion training which afforded
him the opportunity to volunteer in our Hearts Can Heal program. From there, he
evolved into a seasoned Companion, Board Member, and our “go-to” volunteer who will do anything he can (and we mean
anything!) to support Olivia’s House.
A few years ago, Gary kept us abreast of his “Countdown to
Retirement.” Once Gary was able to retire, he began to peruse his passion for
writing. He started a part-time gig of writing a column for a local newspaper,
and because of his growing relationship with Olivia’s House, he dedicated one
of his articles to us. Like many volunteers, it is hard to put into words their
experience at Olivia’s House, so here is an inside view from one of our
longstanding outstanding volunteers, Gary Merica…
A few days ago I was standing in line at the grocery store,
becoming more and more impatient at how long it was taking to check out. Another
customer behind me complained that it was taking so long because there were too
few lanes open, and I all too easily joined in the collective complaint about
our terrible fate. It was only on the drive home that I realized how ridiculous
and, frankly, callous my moment of woe and self-pity truly was. I had just come
from a store that is mere miles from my home, a store with shelves stocked to
the brim with food, finding everything I wanted, having my groceries scanned
and bagged for me – and yet I was so shallow that I felt inconvenienced by a
short wait in line.
This realization reminded me that I was lucky; there are some
parents that can’t afford to even feed their children, and some children that
no longer have a mother or father to care for them.
This brings me to the heart of this column. I have briefly
mentioned in prior columns my affiliation as a volunteer with Olivia’s House. Olivia’s
House is a grief and loss center for children, with two locations in York
County – one in York and one in Hanover. Their mission is to support grieving
children and families, and to facilitate healing through grief and loss
education. Leslie Delp, a therapist who specializes in bereavement work, is the
Founder of Olivia’s House. She started the Hearts
Can Heal program in 1996, running the groups out of church basements.
Currently, Olivia’s House has two physical locations: the York center opened in
2003, and the Hanover location in 2013.
Olivia’s House is indeed a most precious gift. First and
foremost, it is a gift to the children and families who are grieving after the
loss of a loved one. The programs that are designed by the professional staff
and facilitated by a cadre of trained volunteers have a positive impact on the
lives of these families and begin the lifelong process of healing. I have seen
this healing first hand, and am in awe of the power that this well-designed
program has when delivered through the hands of a group of caring people.
Secondly, Olivia’s House is a gift to the entire York
Community. Life throws many challenges our way; few more difficult than a
child’s loss of a parent or other loved one. Being in the position to support
grieving children and bereaved families not only contributes to their healing, but
also serves a greater good for us all. In the troubled times in which we live,
kindness, love, and caring for one another contribute to a greater sense of
community and help us to create a better world.
Olivia’s House is a gift that is received well beyond the
borders of York County. Recognized as one of the premier programs of its kind,
the professionals at Olivia’s House are regularly consulted by other
communities throughout the nation who have suffered traumatic loss – including the
Nickel Mines and Sandy Hook tragedies. The staff also provides guidance to
others on how to establish a similar program in their community. I purposely
chose to use the word “gift” throughout this column, because that’s exactly
what the services provided by Olivia’s House are. The Hearts Can Heal program, as well as all of the services provided by
Olivia’s House, is done so at no cost to families.
I’m certain that I speak for all the many volunteers at
Olivia’s House; it is a most precious gift for us. We feel honored and
privileged to support this wonderful mission, and we find that, by contributing
to the healing of grieving children and to the betterment of our community, we
get more in return than we give.
I’ll end by asking a favor. All of the great work
accomplished by Olivia’s House is conducted by a small staff and a group of
volunteers, and is funded solely through the generosity of community
contributors and via fund-raising. During the season of gift giving, and
throughout the year, would you kindly consider adding this organization to your
gift list? There are so many ways to give – financial, time, and many others.
I like to do, I’ll end with a quote from someone brighter and more articulate
than me (a rather low bar). This from Forest Witcraft: A hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was,
the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be
different because I was important in the
My, How Time Flies
Posted: 1/1/19 by Leslie Delp, MA (Founder and Bereavement Specialist)
Recently, we had the privilege of welcoming two alumni family members to be a part of the fall Hearts Can Heal program. Kim Patterson Tome was a Companion in our elementary group, after having been a program participant in one of the very first groups we offered in the house in 2003. Her son, Luke, who was seven years old when his father died, came to speak to our parents group as an alumnus this fall. His message was clear, "I was your child, and I am doing well; not to worry, your children will be fine."
Luke recently graduated from Penn State Main Campus after a semester of study in China. He majored in PreMed with hopes of becoming a research scientist. His dreams came true last month when he was hired by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) as a researcher. He will be growing tissue in the CHOP Labs that may lead to the eradication of certain types of children’s brain tumors!
We are so proud of Luke and Kim for reaching their hands back to help the newly bereaved families, just like they were over fifteen years ago!
My Weekend with the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children
Posted: 12/1/18 Julia Dunn, M.Ed. (Program Director)
Olivia’s House is a member of The National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), an organization that houses all of the
resources and specialists to support families through the lengthy and often
traumatic journey of child abduction or exploitation. Years ago, NCMEC
connected to Olivia’s House so that we could act as a safety net and support
system for families after a missing child is presumed or declared deceased. Many
times we are called in to support a family after a loss, or to prepare them for
the imminent death of a loved one. But what if that loss is ongoing; a cycle of
optimism and disappointment when you aren’t sure if your child is coming home? Although
we focus heavily on death at Olivia’s House, there are a myriad of losses that
can affect a child’s life. This training gave us the chance to learn about
these losses so that we can better understand how to support a family if they
would need the support of Olivia’s House after abduction.
It was a crisp October morning when I drove into Old Town Alexandria
to attend a conference being held by the Family Advocacy and Outreach Network
division of NCMEC. I had seen the movie “Taken,” so I knew about child abduction,
right? Wrong. It is simpler to think of a child being abducted by a “bad guy” who
needs to be outsmarted before the inevitable “happy ending” reunion. But the
reality is that nearly three-quarters of abducted children are taken by a
biological parent. We heard first-hand stories of individuals who had lived
through this as children and who had found it impossible to assess which of
their parents was in the right, and whether there even was a “bad guy.” The Amber Alerts flashing across the highway tell
us one story, but that very child may feel that they are with the ideal parent
living a life of luxury, and not realize the danger they’re in.
We also heard stories of children (and subsequently their
families) who were victims of online sexual exploitation. Once again, it’s easy
to draw to mind a vision of a young girl, abandoned, and knowing nothing to
turn to but the life of a sex worker. But this is not the most common
experience of sexploitation. Online predators can spend months grooming a teen
to become sexually complicit in pictures and videos.
The exploiter can
assume various roles ranging from trusted peer or mentor to threatening techie
claiming to have access to private files. These losses are lengthy and complex.
During the weekend-long training, a roomful of therapists
and mental health workers were able to come together to be educated on these
issues. Olivia’s House is able to provide education to the community because we continue to educate
ourselves. We are so grateful to NCMEC for this opportunity, and even more
grateful for the opportunity to use this knowledge to expand our support of children
experiencing loss in the community.
Posted: 11/1/18 by K.C. Delp (Executive Director)
No one could see it. Not even
him. Succumbing to a secret battle with
mental illness, 17-year-old Holden Layfield devolved from a gregarious,
small-town Georgian football player to a lost, self-medicating prophet.
Tamlin Hall’s award winning film, “Holden
On,” portrays the complexity of mental illness and teen suicide, while opening
the door for conversations about this difficult but critical community concern.
were blessed when our dear friend, Hearts Can Heal alum and Confessional designer,
Monika Lawrence, arranged for Tamlin to visit Olivia’s House before the
screening of his film at York College. We were not quite sure what to expect,
but ten minutes into our meeting we knew we had made a lifelong friend! Our
short meeting turned into a three-hour conversation about film, mental health,
our life’s passions and future projects.
On” is a remarkable film. The writing is accurate, the acting is precise, the
direction is authentic, and the manner in which Holden’s life is honored is profound.
Tamlin is currently traveling the east coast with select tour dates, so do
yourself a favor click this link, and find a showing close to you.
How Hearts Can Heal By Giving Back
Posted: 10/1/18 by Michelle Fox (Administrative Director)
One of the many highlights of my job is having the opportunity to meet with new volunteers. In doing so, I have met a multitude of unique and inspirational people! Relocating from Boston and in an effort to plant roots in the York community, Liz Erenberg volunteered her musical talents to our mission. Little did we know, Liz would evolve from our in-house flutist, to a Companion volunteer working directly with the children. She has been faithfully volunteering within our programs and recently asked to author a short article reflecting on her experience at Olivia’s House. We were thrilled to read it and are equally excited to share it with you!
"A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal."
- Steve Marboli, motivational speaker and author
Grief makes appearances on its own schedule. For me, it paid me a visit on a beautiful summer day shortly after I moved to York, PA. I was out for a walk and realized that I was lost in a neighborhood I wasn’t familiar with. I decided to head back towards downtown, and then stumbled on Olivia’s House. The tagline, “a grief and loss center for children,” made me do a double take. My mother passed away when I was 8, and I’d never seen anything like this before. I walked in, took a tour, and was so moved that I signed up to volunteer as a companion.
During the training, one of the key moments for me was asking about companions who’ve experienced losses themselves. Leslie and Julia answered the question by saying that it is very common, but sharing the experience of loss is just one of many qualities that make a good companion. Leslie then said, lovingly but with no vagueness, “this is so NOT about you.”
In absorbing this, I thought of the fine line between deep empathy and self-actualization. I want to help these kids because I empathize with them, but also because it might help me to see the kind of support that didn’t exist when I was 8. When looking at childhood grief straight in the eye, how could my past experience not come into play?
Luckily, through observation and an open mind, I would learn that being a companion wasn’t nearly as complicated as it seemed. The more I focus on the kids, the more I achieve being a good companion and my own fulfillment. It is also inspiring to recognize how much Leslie, Julie, Michelle and all others in this field give of themselves by taking on family tragedies.
I’ve now been a companion in three programs. I am a newbie compared to the other veterans of several years, and I am grateful to learn from them. The lessons I’ve learned from being a companion are numerous and deep. Kids are pure-hearted. They are most open when they feel safe and unjudged, and getting to that point takes patience. At times, you need to talk about the newest Cheetos flavor for 45 minutes to have one kid feel comfortable enough to express something about their loss. It’s also sometimes the quietest participants who benefit the most. Activities, conversations and props that seem surface-level are in fact incredibly deep.
At the end of each night, I always have a natural high reflecting on its powerful moments. I feel inspired by this organization, and also heartbroken at the stories that make it a necessity. It is one of the most poignant combination of feelings I’ve ever experienced.
The point of being a companion is to give back selflessly, but playing a small part in healing these kids’ hearts makes mine heal a little too. Being a companion makes more meaning out of my loss, but also helps me to move forward in the spirit of serving others. Olivia’s House gives the gift of healing to its families and volunteers, planting seeds for the future when grief will undoubtedly decide to visit.
I am grateful that grief made an appearance in my life on that summer day. Perhaps it was no accident I got lost, because then I found myself at Olivia’s House. When giving back to the community like this, grief can sometimes be a welcome visitor.
- Elizabeth Erenberg