By Hannah E. Jones
In Georgia, one in 13 children will lose a parent or sibling before the age of 18. One local organization’s mission is to help these children cope.
Kate’s Club wants to create a safe space for children to grieve and talk about their loved ones who have passed away. The metro Atlanta nonprofit implements a combination of therapy and recreation to serve bereaved kids and teens and provides support for their caregivers.
The Clubhouse, where all the action happens, is clearly a fun place to be; it’s decked out with an art room, a music room, a “littles room” for the youngest members and a teen lounge.
The teenage members helped design the teen lounge, which includes comfy couches and a wall that reads, “We all came from different places, but we’re all coming from the same place.”
The Clubhouse’s outdoor space reflects the connection between the therapeutic and recreational approach, which has room for games and tetherball competitions and includes a memory garden.
The play portion of the programming is essential for kids because, as Director of Programs Lane Pease Hendricks puts it, “a child’s language is play.” And Hendricks and Executive Director Lisa Aman are here to speak the children’s language.
Hendricks has a master’s in clinical mental health counseling and has been with Kate’s Club for eight years. Aman joined in March and calls Kate’s Club a “magical place.”
Supporting grieving children and families is especially important for Hendricks and Aman, who have both experienced the death of someone close to them.
During the height of the pandemic, Kate’s Club offered their services virtually and are now reopening for in-person activities. A typical day at the Clubhouse starts with a meet and greet for the children and an optional support group for parents.
“Everybody goes around and shares their name and who died in their life,” Hendricks said. “We use the word ‘die’ because we know it can be very confusing for young children if we say things like ‘passed away’ or ‘lost.’”
The volunteers, Kate’s Club has over 400, then lead the kids through games and fun activities. The goal here is to let kids be kids.
After lunch, the children participate in therapeutic programming like conversations with specialists and hands-on therapy like arts, music therapy and pet therapy.
Each month has a theme, and July’s is “Back to School.”
“That’s a stressful event in the best-case scenario for a child, especially after this past year, but how is it when your mom or dad has died?” Hendricks said. “How do you answer questions like ‘Where’s your mom? Why is your grandma always dropping you off?’ How do you balance school and grieving?”
These questions can be hard to answer, and Hendricks said that kids often don’t open up to their friends about their loss.
That’s why the folks at Kate’s Club are determined to destigmatize grief and ensure that no child has to grieve alone.
“We want people to be able to talk about death and talk about grief,” Aman said. “[We want] people to understand that the risks of not addressing it are huge.”
The risk of ignoring trauma and neglecting coping skills can’t be understated. About 90 percent of the youth in the juvenile justice system experienced the death of someone in their life, according to Evermore, an organization that serves bereaved families.
“We view ourselves as part of the solution to the school-to-prison pipeline,” Aman added.
The enrollment rate decreased due to COVID-19, but pre-pandemic Kate’s Club had 700 active members and reached 300 students through programming at local schools.
While a large emphasis is placed on the bereaved children, the organization also provides outreach to grieving parents and local childcare professionals to help them better serve their kids.
“We’ve been in pretty much every metro Atlanta school system training people,” Aman said.
A new, key resource is “We Come Together as One: Helping Families Grieve, Share and Heal The Kate’s Club Way,” written by Hendricks and Nancy Kriseman, a Kate’s Club volunteer.
Hendricks describes the book as an easy-to-read, how-to guide for the parent or caregiver to know what to expect during the child’s grief process and how to build coping skills.
“We wanted it to be something that a grieving person, a single parent or a bereaved parent has time to open up and get those tips, [discuss] the myths and misconceptions around grief and get really tangible advice,” she said.
All sale proceeds go to Kate’s Club, and each new member gets a copy.
Aman and Hendrick agree that the true marker for success is helping a child feel less alone and ensuring the family feels supported with the resources they need.
If Kate’s Club seems like the right place for yourself or a loved one, visit their website to learn more. Membership is free, there’s no waitlist and nearly everyone who applies is accepted.