Michaela England (right) and Natasha Beune

Pilot hospice project in Chilliwack has youth helping youth

Chilliwack Hospice Society and the Chilliwack School District are offering Teen Grief Peer Support training, starting on Oct. 13.

A new pilot program in Chilliwack will see local youth help their peers deal with grief and loss.

Chilliwack Hospice Society is teaming up with the Chilliwack School District to offer the Teen Grief Peer Support training over 20 hours, which kick off on Oct. 13.

The project started germinating when it became obvious that some students out to become health-care professionals were finding it hard to find in the type of work or volunteer experience necessary to meet university entrance requirements.

Chris Reitsma, school district work experience coordinator, spotted the opportunity within the challenge.

“We’re always seeking meaningful work experience for our students and we’ve had quite a bit of demand,” he said.

The Hospice Society was coincidentally looking to expand their youth mandate at the same time.

“The timing was perfect,” said the school district official.

He pitched the idea to CHS, after having a positive personal experience with the volunteer-fuelled hospice group.

“We had these high school students brimming with enthusiasm and energy and we had nowhere to put them,” said Reitsma. “Of course they were looking for authentic placements.”

Nothing like that was available that put the focus on youth training to this degree.

They kicked around a few ideas and came up with this brand-new training partnership which will alternate the training site from CHS headquarters on Hodgins, to Chilliwack Secondary School on Yale Road east.

“That’s fantastic that we’re bringing the training to where they’re at,” he said.

Hospice education coordinator Colleen Rush said they saw ample opportunities in the pilot project as well.

“From our perspective, we were aware of the number of teens and children in the community who were coping with or anticipating the death of someone facing an end-of-life illness, or who had experienced the loss of a friend, a family member or classmate through suicide, or sudden death like heart attack or stroke, a motor vehicle accident or in some cases, murder.

“So for us, this is an opportunity to partner and provide bereavement support to the children and teens who most need this kind of support.”

There’s an air of excitement about the partnership.

“We are very excited about this project and appreciate the opportunity to partner with the school district to provide bereavement support and education to young people in our community,” she added.

The young people will earn work experience hours to attend this specialized training. The schedule has two Saturday sessions, and several after school.

It starts with an introduction to issues around grief and loss for the teens. They’ll tackle topics like communicating and healthy boundaries, social media and grief, and they’ll also look at grieving through the lens of diversity.

They don’t know where it will ultimately lead, said the work experience official, but the selections have been made and the training starts this week.

“When they’re done, they’ll be bona fide volunteers with some very valuable training.

“We’re excited to see how it all turns out.”

The goal is for the trainees to go on to put their training to good use the remainder of the school year.

They’ll do that by providing one-to-one peer support for Chilliwack youth, speaking to classes, supporting students who are feeling a loss, and helping co-facilitate the children’s grief support groups at CHS.

“We’re not exactly sure yet how they’ll be employed in the community but we have lots of ideas,” added Reitsma. “We’ll take it as it comes.”

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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