Hames, Carolyn [faculty advisor, College of Nursing]
bereavement; volunteers; grief counseling
When I first visited FRIENDS Way (the only childhood bereavement center in Rhode Island) to fulfill a class requirement for Honors 119- Loss in the Lives of Children and Adolescents, I realized that I had come across an incredible group of individuals. The facilitators at the center were volunteers; people who gave their time and talent to help grieving children. Many of the children had lost a parent, sibling or grandparent and I thought about how important and special the work of the facilitators is. A number of questions ran through my mind: what makes people want to do this type of work? What do these volunteers have in common with each other? What rewards do they feel this work gives them? While meeting with Professor Carolyn Hames to discuss an honors project on bereavement, I casually mentioned interviewing facilitators. We discussed this idea and my senior honors project, “Recruitment and Retention of Childhood Bereavement Center Facilitators” was born. I developed a questionnaire with seven questions that asks about the participant’s experience as a facilitator, the rewards their volunteer work provides, the qualities facilitators have in common and how a center can increase recruitment and retention. We have received answered questionnaires from facilitators in Australia, Canada, Washington, Texas, Florida, New York and Rhode Island. I first contacted center coordinators, and then sent questionnaires, a letter and informed consent paperwork to each facilitator. They returned the questionnaires and the signed informed consent in separate envelopes, which were separated for confidentiality purposes. I am analyzing the responses by grouping them and looking for similarities. For example, preliminary data suggests that the highest occurring answers for what qualities they felt they and other volunteer facilitators possess were 1) good listening skills, 2) compassion and 3) empathy. Many, but certainly not all of the volunteer facilitators, have chosen to work with children after they suffered a loss in their own lives. Preliminary data also indicates that the most frequently stated reward received for volunteering as a facilitator has been seeing children and their families enter the program “broken” and “feeling hopeless,” and watching them transition to a point where they feel they can smile and laugh again and move on with their lives. I will be relaying the full results of the study to the participating childhood bereavement centers at the conclusion so that they may increase the recruitment and retention of caring volunteer facilitators. I will also be sharing the results to a national audience as the project has been accepted for presentation at the 11th Annual National Symposium for Children’s Grief Support that will be held this June in Birmingham, Alabama.