Children’s Grief Awareness Day is Nov. 21
It’s quietly and deceptively understated and nondescript on the outside.
At first glance, the building at 1145 W. Oakland Ave. in Lansing could house any number of commercial offerings: a dental clinic, an attorney’s headquarters, a doctor’s office. Yet it’s not the exterior that matters – because the inside is “magical,” according to Kristine Kuhnert. Much like the elemental mission Ele’s Place provides to those it serves, the interior is where the hope and the healing take place.
“Children respond differently to grief than adults. Children don’t like to feel different. They don’t understand all of the things they are feeling,” said Kuhnert, director of Ele’s Place-Capital
Region. “Here at Ele’s Place, they can find a safe place where they can tell someone that they don’t understand why someone died.”
Founded in 1991, the nonprofit, community-based organization is dedicated to creating awareness of and support for grieving children and their families. Through peer support group programs, Ele’s Place helps children to cope with the death of a parent, sibling or someone close to them. Inside is where children are able to struggle through expressing profound foundational questions and statements about who they are, where they stand, why they are feeling the way they do: “Why did Mom have to go away?” “My brother died, and I don’t know if I’m still a big sister.”
Those expressions that make their emotions more metaphorically tangible are gained through a variety of methods – whether they are verbalized or communicated through art, play or even physical activity. However, the goal is to enable grieving children to find comfort in the knowledge that someone in their own peer group is there who understands and can help guide them along their healing journey.
While that internal cathartic and curative process is an emotionally draining experience, it is also one that is important and inspirational, Kuhnert noted. Without it, that grief may remain unresolved, manifesting itself in negative ways that could have long-term ramifications in a child’s life. It’s why the efforts of Ele’s Place and other organizations like it are highlighted on the third Thursday of each November as part of Children’s Grief Awareness Day.
Designed to bring attention to the needs of grieving children and the benefits they receive through support and guidance, Children’s Grief Awareness Day falls on Nov. 21 this year. Kuhnert said Ele’s Place will offer tours of its facility to members of public throughout the day so they can develop a better understanding of the purpose and mission of the organization.
“If people want to come in, we’ll be happy to show them around,” Kuhnert said. “A lot of people think they know what happens at Ele’s Place, but then they take a tour and they really get a full understanding.”
That full understanding is vital because Ele’s Place doesn’t collect state or federal funding and offers its services to children and their families at no cost.
“We can do what we do because of this amazing community,” Kuhnert said. “We have a $1 million budget. When someone calls and says, ‘I need help,’ our services are provided because of the support of the people in the community.”
While Ele’s Place always responds to those calls for help, the biggest helpers are time and patience – something counterintuitive to the immediacy of the “fix-it society” of today, Kuhnert said. While it varies from individual to individual, on average a child will utilize the programs of Ele’s Place for roughly a year.
“But it’s open-ended. They decide when they are ready to close,” Kuhnert said. “Sometimes you just need to sit with a person, which is what happens at Ele’s Place. … That’s the best part: Knowing that we’re helping children, knowing they don’t have to pay for it, knowing that they have a place to come.
“No one wants to feel alone,” Kuhnert said, adding, “and here you’re not. That’s the beauty of this building. It’s where they find they’re not alone anymore.”
For more information on Ele’s Place, visit elesplace.org.