Coming Together: Local program provides necessary services for grieving families

BY Chris Haise

It is often said “it takes a village to raise a child.” These words are especially true in times of tragedy, and lie at the heart of the Kyle’s Korner mission.

Nestled amongst the shops on North Avenue in East Tosa, the unassuming home of Kyle’s Korner serves grieving families throughout the Milwaukee area.

The story of Kyle’s Korner begins in 1998 with Lynda Gruenewald-Schmitz. Through her work as a hospice nurse, Lynda began to realize there were some glaring gaps in specialized services in the area. Specifically, support for grieving children and their parents.

Lynda’s journey to rectify this situation began at the Dougy Center in Portland, Oregon. While it may not be a household name, the Dougy Center is highly respected in healthcare circles as a pioneer in grief support. Founded in 1982, the Dougy Center was the first of its kind in offering peer support for children’s grief services.

The Dougy Center’s greatest impact likely lies in the 500 worldwide programs that are centered on the Dougy Center peer support model. Professionals in more than half of these programs have undergone training with the Dougy Center Staff, including Lynda Gruenewald-Schmitz.

Current Executive Director Paula Harris explains that the early days of Kyle’s Korner were less about large, altruistic goals, but more about one very specific tragedy.

In 1998, 25 year old Kathy Stephenson lost her life in a senseless accident caused by a drunk driver, leaving behind three children under the age of 5. The oldest, Kyle, was a classmate of Lynda’s son in kindergarten, and it was her desire to offer support to Kathy’s grieving family that led to Kyle’s Korner.

According to Director Harris, Lynda searched in vain for a program that could provide adequate grief counselling, not only for Kyle, but the entire family. Between her own experience in hospice and the training she had received at the Dougy Center, Lynda began to network and bring together support for what would become Kyle’s Korner.

What Lynda and her colleagues developed has become an important and unique community resource. By providing totally free services to grieving families, the Center is able to accommodate and support a wide range of people in need.

Activities at Kyle’s Korner ensure that bereaved families have a safe and nurturing space to cope with and express feelings they may not be able to handle anywhere else.

Many of the activities are structured around the arts, using music, books, and arts and crafts to provide a platform for processing feelings related to the death they have experienced.

While Kyle’s Korner is a center for grieving children, their model and beliefs require that the healing process be extended to the entire family, adults included. The Center provides parents and guardians the opportunity to meet and discuss strategies for helping their children cope with their grief at home and in the real world.

This “all-in” approach taken by Kyle’s Korner is due to the belief that a tragic loss can be pervasive in a child’s life, manifesting itself at school, at home, and everywhere in between. Qualified professionals and specially trained volunteers provide the direction and careful supervision for all sessions as group facilitators and greeters.

With this in mind, the Center aims for building resilience through efforts focused on children accepting the reality of the loss, experience the pain of grief, adjusting to an environment in which the deceased is missing, and investing in new life goals.

The Center holds groups Monday through Thursday and participants attend bi-weekly.

Attending Kyle’s Korner as a participant is simple and begins with a call to the Center at 414.777.1585. A staff member will get some basic information and set an appointment with the parent, where more detailed information will be discussed.

Once the Center has a detailed understanding of the family dynamics and needs, they can effectively match families with the proper support group. Kyle’s Korner requires a commitment to regular attendance once matched with the support groups, as consistency and community is key to the peer support model.

Despite its inspiring beginnings and significant place in the community, future efforts for Kyle’s Korner depend on volunteerism and the generosity of the community as they receive no government funding. The need for community support has been the recurring theme of our ‘Service in the City’ features and remains true for Kyle’s Korner.

Charitable contributions keep their groups running, doors open, and allows Kyle’s Korner to continue. Financial contributions are used to offer a safe place where children, teens and their families can retreat to focus on healing and building hope for the future after the death of a loved one.

Time is also a valuable contribution. The Kyle’s Korner website offers information on opportunities to become a group facilitator or house parent, or to join a fundraising effort with dedicated time and energy. Even the simple, yet universally appreciated act of sharing baked goods can go a long way to supporting the Kyle’s Korner mission.

Another easy way to make a difference for Kyle’s Korner is by donating supplies, from kitchen and cleaning supplies to paper and plastic products/utensils for dinner service. For an organization totally dependent on community support, anything donated can and will make a difference.

Kyle’s Korner is a testament to the resiliency of children and the human spirit, as well as a reminder of the importance of support and community. The Center manages to fill a vital healthcare gap through the concerted efforts of selfless and talented volunteers and professionals, making “the village” a little more intimate, yet powerful for us all