Nonprofit that helps children cope with loss expands to Collier
Naples Daily News - 3/10/2017
March 10--It has been two years since Shea Sherman's mom died of a heart attack, but she still wears the bangle her mother gave her, even when she sleeps.
It used to be silver. Now it's more of a pewter.
The pain of losing her mom was compounded by Shea's Asperger's Syndrome, a move from Memphis to Naples to live with her dad and leaving behind her friends and church, according to her father.
"I remember she used to ask me when her mother was coming back," said Scott Sherman, her dad. "She was in denial about her death. I told her that her mother was in heaven. She'd ask me if she could die to go to heaven with her."
But in the last year, Sherman has seen a change in his 14-year-old daughter.
He started taking her to counseling sessions at Valerie's House, a Fort-Myers based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children and families grieve after the death of a loved one.
It was there that she realized she wasn't alone -- that several kids her age, and even older, were also hurting.
"Being here gives me someone to talk to," Shea said. "Lots of people to talk to, actually. The world is not as sunshine-and-rainbows as people my age might think, but at least you have people to lean on."
Valerie's House celebrated a major milestone Thursday evening -- the opening of a new location in Collier County.
Dozens of children and caregivers gathered for the opening at the Village School at North Naples Church. The occasion marked the first counseling and activity sessions for many Collier families, nearly all of whom were previously on a waiting list for services.
After a potluck dinner, children were split into three groups -- the Littles, Middles and Teens -- to get to know each other and do hands-on activities with counselors. Parents also had their own group to talk and set personal goals.
The organization's mission is to provide a safe, peaceful place for children and adults to feel their grief, work through it and support one another.
Angela Melvin, of Fort Myers, launched the organization to honor her mother, Valerie, who died in a car crash. Melvin was 10 years old.
"When my mom died, my family and I didn't talk about it and tried to move on with our lives," Melvin said. "We didn't have a place like this. We didn't know what to do with our grief."
Melvin and her army of counselors have become foot soldiers on the front line of grief and loss for children and families in mourning.
"It takes strength and courage to come here not knowing what to expect, to accept the grief and express it," Melvin said. "Some of the kids who come here haven't met other kids who have lost a parent or sibling. Children need an outlet. So do parents."
The organization's home base, which opened January 2016, is in a two-story Fort Myers house decorated with teddy bears and a memory wall that displays photos of loved ones lost. In October, Valerie's House partnered with a church in Cape Coral to host sessions.
The organization serves about 110 families from all over Southwest Florida, several of whom make long treks from Collier County to attend counseling sessions.
Melvin hopes to have a house in Collier County like the one she has in Fort Myers.
"We are not going anywhere," she said. "There is a great need in the community for children and families to grieve the death of loved ones. We're happy to be serving in the Collier County community and already have received tremendous support."
For more information on Valerie's House, or to inquire about counseling, visit valerieshouseswfl.org.
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