Although the world around us is changing every day, the vision of local nonprofit, Valerie’s
House, remains the same: no child will grieve alone.
After losing her mother, Valerie, when she was only 10 years old, Valerie’s House Founder and CEO, Angela Melvin, was determined to establish a place in Southwest Florida where children could come together to talk about grief and learn loss doesn’t have to limit their dreams. Recognizing a local need, Angela decided to focus her life’s work on establishing a children’s bereavement center that would be a haven for grieving children and their families.
When Valerie’s House first launched its peer support groups in Fort Myers in 2016, the need for children’s grief services across all of Southwest Florida quickly became clear. Valerie’s House expanded its services to Naples in March 2017 and, after initially holding groups at North Naples Church, opened the doors of Valerie’s House Naples in September 2019. In 2019, groups also began meeting in Punta Gorda at First United Methodist Church. The future includes plans to break ground on a “forever home” for Valerie’s House headquarters in Fort Myers in 2021 and the dream of a permanent location to serve Charlotte County families.
The 2020 Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (CBEM) reveals 1-in-13 children in Florida will experience the loss of a parent or sibling by the age of 18. Children who have lost a parent or sibling desperately need an outlet where they can discuss the heavy topics surrounding death and where they can express complex emotions, without the fear of making others feel uncomfortable. At Valerie’s House children and caregivers gain a sense of belonging in a safe place where they can share their feelings with others who truly understand. Those who have experienced loss know how lonely the journey through grief can be. Through peer grief support groups that utilize creative outlets and play therapy techniques, Valerie’s House has helped more than 1,200 individuals to date. Program participants learn healthy coping skills and receive tools that help them go on to live fulfilling lives.
This March, when it became clear it was no longer safe to meet in person due to Covid-19 concerns, Valerie’s House transitioned to virtual groups using the HIPPA-compliant platform, Zoom Healthcare. Continuing programming throughout the pandemic has been essential to meeting the needs of grieving children and families. After already experiencing great personal loss, families reported the circumstances surrounding the pandemic intensified their feelings of isolation and anxiety. Seeing friends virtually and continuing progress in their grief journey has provided a sense of safety and security during an unprecedented time. Following the school district’s lead, Valerie’s House plans to reopen its doors for in-person groups in August and will adhere to all necessary safety precautions and social distancing guidelines.
Since loss never stops, neither does Valerie’s House. The Valerie’s House team is focused on meeting the needs of every grieving child through their free grief services which, in addition to peer support groups, now include the Val’s PALs mentor program, individual therapy, school-based support, and personalized family care.
Loss does not have to limit your dreams and Valerie’s House is living proof. Although the foundation of the organization is grief, its mission is built around love, understanding, strength, and hope. Those are the things it strives to share with the Southwest Florida community. Valerie herself would be proud. Her legacy lives on inside the walls of Valerie’s House and through each child that walks through its doors.
WAYS YOU CAN HELP
Ongoing community support during this uncertain time has enabled Valerie’s House to continue providing support to grieving children and families. If you would like to support Valerie’s House or schedule a tour of Valerie’s House Naples or Fort Myers, please visit www.valerieshouseswfl.org or email Director of Strategic Initiatives, Jennifer Clark, at JenniferC@ValeriesHouseSWFL.org or Development and Communications Coordinator, Sarah Desrosiers, at SarahD@ValeriesHouseSWFL.com.
Valerie’s House is hosting its 2020 Sunset Soiree on Thursday, October 29, 2020, with virtual and in-person options. The main event will be held at the Quail West Golf and Country Club in Naples at 7 pm. To purchase tickets and learn more about this special night, please visit www.valerieshouseswfl.org/events.
To help share the mission and stay connected, follow Valerie’s House on the following social media platforms:
To learn about volunteer opportunities, please visit www.ValeriesHouseSWFL.org or contact Assistant Director of Group Support, Ally O’Brien, at Ally@ValeriesHouseSWFL.org.