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Seasons Centre healing young hearts 0

By Nicki Cruickshank, Barrie Examiner

J.T. McVeigh Photo - Joan Kennedy, left, managing director for Seasons Centre for Grieving, and board member Valerie Scott, owner of Steckley-Gooderham Funeral Home, show Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman the facilities at the centre.

J.T. McVeigh Photo - Joan Kennedy, left, managing director for Seasons Centre for Grieving, and board member Valerie Scott, owner of Steckley-Gooderham Funeral Home, show Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman the facilities at the centre.

Barrie's mayor was given a glimpse into a grieving child's world earlier this week.

Mayor Jeff Lehman toured the Seasons Centre for Grieving, which offers support for children who've lost a parent or sibling.

And, from the minute he entered, Lehman was overwhelmed by what centre staff and volunteers can do to ease the pain of a child's grief.

"I've been to events in support of this centre, but this is my first time actually being here," Lehman said. "You're trying to make them feel at home here because you know they are under stress with their grief and their situations at home. That's great to hear."

During the tour, Lehman said when he saw a room lined with photos of the deceased parents, brothers and sisters of children attending the centre, he was filled with emotion.

"Downstairs, (there are) pictures of the number of people in our community that have been lost. That was shocking to me," Lehman said, obviously humbled. "It really brings it home to me, seeing the (positive) impact this organization has on the families in this community and why it's needed."

Valerie Scott, a 'buddy' at the centre who sits on the board of directors, said Lehman's reaction to the centre is a view she wants the public, and potential corporate sponsors, to have.

"We wanted to give the mayor a tour so he could see all that we do," Scott said. "We would love to give more tours to businesses and groups who could give us funding to help us keep our programs running.

"We also have the mortgage to pay for and any repairs to the centre."

The centre, located at 38 McDonald St., is currently working with 170 grieving children ages four to 24 through age and case-specific activities and programs. A separate program for grieving parents is also offered.

The 105-year-old house is set up to make children and their surviving parent feel comfortable.

A comfy living room, a spacious kitchen and upstairs activity rooms allow children to embrace, or escape, their grief while at the centre.

Lehman was surprised by the creative outlets afforded to children at the centre.

"For a place that deals with young people in the worst time of their lives, it's a very cheerful place here," he said, gazing around a room plastered with children's colourful handprints.

"We want it to feel like their home, and the children can play, come and get a snack from the fridge without having to ask," said Scott, owner and funeral director at Steckley-Gooderham Funeral Homes. "We want this to be a more relaxing environment."

But, there's nothing relaxing about grief and frustration for a child. That's evident upstairs, with walls scribed with messages of sadness and confusion, and by entering the 'volcano room'.

It's a padded room equipped with balls, a trampoline and a punching bag for children to vent their frustrations.

"The volcano room gets a lot of use," Scott said. "Thrashing your body against the wall, throwing balls around, it's normal here and they feel safe to get that out here."

Lehman's eyes widened as he stepped inside the room.

"There's a punching bag in here. Wow," he said. "I can only imagine how angry these children must be, angry about death, upset that their mom or dad has left them behind. They're not sure how to deal with those feelings. This is a way to help them release that anger safely."

The splat room is another frustration outlet, where children enter a room lined with plastic and are handed paint and brushes. They are free to fling and slap paint everywhere if that will offer a release.

"They can really be creative while letting out their feelings," Lehman observed. "This all must be so emotionally and physically draining for the volunteers. It must be difficult to absorb this on a regular basis."

Sometimes, Scott said that intensity isn't there, and a child will just need a hug and someone to talk to about their pain.

"We're allowed to give hugs here, and we do a lot," she said. "I have one boy who was six when his mom died and he likes to snuggle up to me and talk about her with me," Scott said. "Sometimes they just don't want to talk to their surviving parent about how they feel because they think mom or dad has been through enough. They bottle it up instead."

Scott also told Lehman these programs can't be provided without constant community funding.

"A lot of people misunderstand our funding situation. They think the government funds us, but we get no government funding. We did get involved with the United Way this year, but we rely heavily on public donations and fundraisers."

Eager to help out, Lehman purchased two tickets for the centre's upcoming gala event 'A Night of Old Hollywood Glamour' on April 28 at the Barrie Country Club. Cocktails begin at 6 p.m. with a live and silent auction to follow. Tickets are $125.

"That's our biggest fundraiser all year," Scott said, adding that all proceeds go to keeping the centre open.

For information or to make a donation to Seasons Centre, call 705-721-5437, or visit www.grievingchildren.com.


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