Valerie’s House Inc
Founder and CEO Angela Melvin recently presented at the 2017 National Alliance for Grieving Children Symposium on Children’s Grief in Richmond, Va., according to Mehta Communications
. The goal of the presentation was to pave the way for other communities around the country to build their own grief centers.
Melvin, along with Valerie’s House program director Danielle Visone, led a presentation titled, “How to Build a Grief Center --Grassroots and from the Ground Up.” The presentation, according to Mehta Communications' press release, "documented the Valerie’s House journey and discussed strategies and lessons learned with other communities who want to help children in grief." More than 300 grief organizations were in attendance at the annual conference.
We had a chance to chat with Melvin to discuss the history and goals of the nonprofit, as well as future plans in a TOTI Media special Q&A.
Times of the Islands: Tell us a little about the Valerie's House. When and how did it get started?
Angela Melvin: Valerie’s House is a loving place for children to come after they have experienced the death of someone close to them, usually a parent or a sibling. Children meet and connect with each other in grief support groups and use a variety of art and music therapy to help them. Valerie’s House is a long time vision of mine. I lost my own mother when I was 10 years old in a car accident. There weren’t any grief support services for my father and I in 1987 in Fort Myers. When I moved back to my hometown in 2014, I realized there still wasn’t any ongoing support for children, so I began to seek out support to build a grief center for children where they could feel safe sharing their feelings. Valerie’s House opened in January 2016 with 20 kids, and now we have over 120. Valerie’s House is located in a cozy house in the Dean Park area of Fort Myers. Valerie’s House also has a satellite location in Naples at The Village School.
TOTI: What are your goals for the program and where do you see it heading?
Melvin: The number one goal of Valerie’s House is to build a house to call our own. The cozy “home away from home” is where the children meet in the evenings, and work on their grief and healing together. Valerie’s House is currently renting a house, and the owner has put the home up for sale. We have identified a piece of property in downtown Fort Myers that we would like to purchase and build our home on. We are working with the community to raise money to make this dream come true and have a stable house for grieving children to call their own.
TOTI: What's something people usually assume about the program? What do people usually assume that's incorrect?
Melvin: People assume that Valerie’s House must be a really sad place since the children are all grieving. However, Valerie’s House is a happy place for our kids. We incorporate fun and creative activities to allow the children to express themselves.They love coming here, because we allow them to be a kid, laugh, and feel normal among others who are also going through a similar loss.
TOTI: What is your personal favorite aspect of the program and its mission?
Melvin: I love seeing the children and their parents connect with other families grieving and build friendships that I know are essential to them in this time in their lives. I consider many of our children my own family. I am happiest when I am with our kids, either when I am leading one of the groups, or just hanging out before we get started, and playing a little basketball.
TOTI: What's one of your most memorable moments while working there?
Melvin: The first night we opened, Jan. 11, 2016. I waited anxiously to see if any children would actually come. I hoped for maybe 10 children. We ended up having close to 30. It was exhilarating that our community was open to this kind of healing and that families were having the courage to come forward. I’ll never forget that night.
TOTI: Are there any recent or upcoming changes that people should know about?
We need help building our new home. The children need a place to feel safe and stable. We need the community’s help and would ask anyone who wants to be a part of it, either someone in the construction industry, or who has the means to sponsor a room, a brick in our walkway or a tree in our memory garden, please let us know. They can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
TOTI: Anything else we should know about?
Melvin: All the services offered to our families grieving are at no cost. Grief touches so many people, many of us don’t know, because most families don’t talk about it openly. It doesn’t matter how long ago the death occurred, we would love to meet any family in grief. They will be welcomed into our family of support immediately.