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Neighbors in Action: Ele's Place of Lansing

Kelly Koerner photo
Katie Cook
Kelly Koerner is Associate Program Director of Ele's Place in Lansing.

Losing a loved one is always difficult, but it can be especially hard for children who may be too young to understand and process that kind of grief. For this week’s Neighbors in Action we talk to Kelly Koerner, associate program director of Ele’s Place, a non-profit where children can receive grief counseling and find peer support.

Grieving the death of a loved one is one of life’s most difficult experiences.

For children who lose someone, the experience can be really confusing. They can feel alone and keep their feelings inside, not wanting to burden their parents or other family members. Often, friends don’t seem to understand if they haven’t had a similar experience.

Ele’s Place, with locations in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Flint, facilitates support groups for grieving children and teens from ages three to 18. They can meet new friends who understand how they feel, and work through their grief in a safe environment.

For Neighbors in Action this week, Current State talks with Associate Program Director of Ele’s Place in Lansing, Kelly Koerner.

“Children grieve very differently than adults,” says Koerner. “The grief is very intermittent, where they need a lot of breaks within their sadness.”

Younger children can also struggle to understand the permanency of death.

“It’s very hard for them to understand, for example, that their dad is not coming home again,” says Koerner.

“At Ele’s place we’re able to help the kids process their feelings – and also understand what death is.”

This honesty with the children can go a long way towards avoiding problems later in life, according to Koerner.

“Unaddressed grief can really lead to a lot of negative consequences on a child’s well-being and health,” says Koerner.

“We tend to find that unresolved childhood grief is linked to depression, truancy, drug abuse – and oftentimes suicidal thoughts.”

So how does Ele’s Place get those who are grieving to express themselves and share how they’re feeling?

“We do a lot of games, art and creative activities to help the kids express their feelings,” says Koerner.

One example is an activity that is often done with the teenage groups involves making what Koerner calls “inside-outside” masks.

“What does your face look like when you’re walking into school after the death of a parent?” she says they might ask the teens.

They then decorate the outside of their masks to represent the faces they show to their community. The inside is decorated according to how they truly feel.

“Typically what we see is kids will decorate the smiling face, happiness and confidence on the outside, but on the inside it’s a lot of struggling and feeling alone.”

But Koerner says that when the kids can share these things in a group setting, it normalizes it for them, so they don’t feel so isolated.

Article by Ethan Merrill, Current State intern.

Current State is always looking for more nominations for our “Neighbors In Action” feature. Please help us out and e-mail us your suggestions to currentstate@wkar.org. Put ‘Neighbors in Action’ in the subject line. Or tweet us: @KARCurrentState and tell us a little about why you think they should be featured.

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