By Sue Siens
“Mother Teresa once said, ‘If you can’t do great things, do little things with great love,’ and that is what this program is doing.”- Brenda Gill, Rainbows Volunteer Coordinator
When a family experiences death, divorce, or other traumatic loss, the central focus is often on the adults involved, but the children in the family are profoundly affected too. Often because of their age and limited life experiences, they find it difficult to express their feelings of grief.
Lebanon resident Brenda Gill established the local Rainbows children’s grief support group here in Wilson County, to help them express their feelings, and work through their painful experiences. Brenda is assisted by David Hesson, First United Methodist Church associate pastor, and Teresa LaFevor, director of children’s ministry, and several trained volunteer facilitators. Brenda serves as the volunteer coordinator. She helps facilitators get trained, orders materials, sets the schedule, and spreads the word in the community.
The 12-week Rainbows program is free of charge, and not affiliated with a specific religious group. It is divided into four age groups, for ages 5-6, 7-8, 9-11 and 12-14, and covers 18 topics, including self-esteem, trust, family issues, anger, moving forward, etc.
Gill said, “The outreach for this program has been a blessing in my life. The Rainbows program is to help children cope with grief, but a satellite group of adults has also formed. The bravery and spirit of parents, grandparents, and guardians have helped me to appreciate people trying to hold a family together in a crisis. Every parent is struggling to protect their child, affirm his feelings, and allow grief to surface and not destroy. We have laughed, shared, talked, and cried in the adult group and I have prayed for all.”
Brenda expressed her gratitude for the volunteer facilitators, adding, “The facilitators are dedicated ladies who I really admire. They give time and love and effort each week to these kids. It takes a lot of planning and praying for the program to work.” The volunteer facilitators are Nancy Polley, Marty Young, Pam Tate, Cori Bradley, Melissa Dabbs, Kay Turner, and Pauline Satterfield.
Pauline Satterfield, a volunteer facilitator, said, “I absolutely love helping these children deal with their grief issues, to let them understand they are not alone and that things will get better. Having gone through divorce myself, I wish a program like this had been available to help my own children. Rainbows help the children have a smoother transition through the process.”
The local Rainbows group is part of an international mission to help children who have experienced death, divorce, separation due to military deployment, or other significant loss. The organization was formed by Suzy Yehl Marta, a divorced mother of three boys, who in the mid-1970’s searched unsuccessfully for a support group for her own children. She and other parents worked on a curriculum to help children share their feelings of grief and loss, and Rainbows for All Children was formed in the 1980’s. Today, the 32 yr. old program is in 16 countries and serves more than 3 million youth. The organization’s Executive Director and CEO, Bob Thomas, noted on Rainbows website that “more than 40 million children in the U.S. will experience the pain of death or divorce this year.”
When Myra (“Mike”) Willey’s husband died in 2013, Brenda Gill recommended the Rainbows program for their three grandsons. “I had a wonderful experience with the program during its first year and was so thankful that it was available,” said Mike. “My husband had died that summer and my grandsons were very close to him. They seemed to handle his death fairly well, but that same summer also lost a great grandmother.”
After hearing more about the purpose and programs, Mike asked her grandsons if they would like to try it. “They were curious but not too sure,” she said. “After the first session they were sold! They found the leaders very kind and enjoyed the entire experience. They also learned a lot from other group members about grief issues. From then on they were excited to attend each session and didn’t want to miss any.”
“I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who experiences a loss in his or her family,” Willey said. One never knows truly what these children are thinking, and this is such a terrific way to let them learn to deal with grief in a secure and caring environment.”
Rainbows is enrolling for the upcoming sessions, which begin Aug. 25 through Nov. 24, 2015. The sessions are held on Tues. evening, 6:30 p.m., in the Spain House, 415 W. Main Street in Lebanon. For more information about enrollment and the program, call Brenda Gill at (615) 306-0441 or (615) 444-7321; or David Hesson and Teresa LaFevor at First United Methodist Church, (615) 444-3315.