Category: Geneva S.

Week 9: Remarkable Preparation

Tu Nidito’s largest fundraising event every year is known as the “Remarkable Celebration.” There’s a silent auction, dancing, and recognition of that year’s “Remarkable Moms,” a group of women from the Tucson community who have had grief touch their families and continued to make great strides. The event is always the Saturday before Mother’s Day, and preparation is in full swing. So while my internship is normally focused on the volunteer side of things, I have been helping out with the fundraising and financial part of Tu Nidito.

This means preparing the thank you letters that are sent out in response to every donation, a process that involves entering data into the computer, printing letters and envelopes, stuffing the envelopes, and then using a stamp machine to seal and stamp them. Our office has also been overrun by items that will be auctioned off, and I’ve been helping to move them around as they get into their final packaging. Finally, one seemingly pleasant morning it was discovered that the two spreadsheets that list the values of the auction items disagreed by about $150. After two hours of work, including lots of color-coding, I found the missing $150, resolving that day’s crisis. I felt like a brilliant, not-for-profit Sherlock Holmes.

This work is really different that my usual internship grind, and it’s interesting to see all the parts that go into financing Tu Nidito. Because I’m usually doing volunteer stuff, it doesn’t even occur to me that money plays such a key role in keeping the place running. Employing group coordinators, maintaining the facility, buying the food for PB&J with Love, and all the other expenses really add up, even with a workforce of 200+ volunteers working for free. It makes me incredibly grateful for all the people who support Tu Nidito financially, and I can’t wait to go to the Remarkable Celebration next Saturday and meet some of them!

Week 8: Intergenerational Week

Today was my second to last group ever with the Thursday 1 kids. This was the first group I joined when I first started volunteering for Tu Nidito, and it’s definitely the one closest to my heart. It is also Tu Nidito’s high trauma night, so a lot of the families have lost someone to suicide, homicide, or overdose. That made this week’s theme of intergenerational night tricky – in theory, the adults and kids do the activity as a family rather than splitting by age group, allowing facilitators a peek into their interpersonal dynamics and families a chance to bond within the grieving process. However, a lot of these kids are in foster care, have been adopted by someone outside their immediate family, or even live alone. How do you have an intergenerational night when a family is composed of only one generation, or even just one individual?

In an attempt to make intergenerational night a success even if it’s not strictly speaking intergenerational, I got to hang with two siblings tonight. The older child is in middles, so I’ve known him for quite a while now, and he has grown immensely in that time. When he first came to Tu Nidito, he didn’t know how he had lost his mom. Talking about it is still incredibly laborious and emotional for him, but he knows now that his father is in prison for killing his mother. He talks a lot about how beautiful she was, and how he always felt safe when he was near her. He also talks lovingly about his father, and how much he misses him.

In his time at Tu Nidito, this kid has also grown in other ways. When he first came, he was incredibly small and scrawny, but each group he’s looked visibly healthier as he’s begun to gain weight. He loves Tu Nidito’s “volcano room,” with its punching bags and padded walls and pool noodles to hit things with, and he’s begun to do boxing lessons at a local gym to get some of that same energy out. He’s been officially adopted by extended family members, and moved on from talking only about dinosaurs to talking only about cats. This kid is truly amazing, and today I got to hang with him and his little sister and make sure that they didn’t even realize that the activity was meant to involve an adult.

We had a great time. We made a necklace in memory of their mom, where each bead represents a special memory, emotion, or development in their grief journey. I got to connect with his sister, who is in littles and who I’d never spoken to before, and realize that her grief is far less frenetic compared to her brother’s. We also played limbo (the sister won), and they showed me different ways to knock over a punching bag, each one inspired by a type of animal.

In post-group, the facilitators talked about how volunteering at Tu Nidito has changed other aspects of our lives. One theme that came up was gratitude: working with kids who have had their whole lives upended really teaches you to be aware of how lucky you are. As I continue to explore the balance between being strict and relaxed with these grieving kids, tonight was an important reminder that the adult world has dictated so much of how these kids live. Maybe relaxing the rules is just a necessary way to even out the scales.

Week 6: Self Esteem

This week at Tu Nidito, we are reading the book “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” It revolves around the idea that everyone carries with them an invisible bucket that is filled when others do nice things for them and emptied when others are mean to them. Here’s the catch, though: when you do something nice for someone else, it doesn’t only fill their bucket; it fills yours as well. I have distinct memories of this book from my elementary school, so it was really cool to see how the Tu Nidito kids reacted. Despite the length and relative simplicity of the illustrations, “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” really kept their attention, and they all really grasped the idea behind the buckets.

After we read the book, we talk about things that fill and empty our buckets. Then, the activity this week was to write “warm fuzzies” on provided pieces of paper. They are short messages intended to fill others’ buckets. The kids can write them to anyone – their family, friends, or fellow Tu Nidito group members. At least one warm fuzzy, however, has to be to themselves.

Because I spent a week at Westwind, I have only seen this week’s curriculum in one group so far, but in that group it went really well. The facilitators wrote warm fuzzies for all the kids which got everyone engaged in the activity, and the kids were soon writing them to each other. We spent a good half hour chilling together writing the notes, and even ran out of paper to write them on (our group coordinator was more than happy to provide more). By the end of the night, one kid adorably exclaimed, “I feel like my bucket is so full that I had to go to the dollar store and get two more buckets!”

It was a good week.

Week 5: Westwind!

I spent last week at Camp Westwind, in coastal Oregon, as a volunteer counselor for the Northwest Outdoor Science School. I had my own cabin of kids that I shepherded, listened to, and looked after. I also led other groups of kids through some basic experiments in biodiversity and ecology during the day. This was my 4th time at Westwind, and as usual, it was a blast. However, I now had the additional lens of my SRP through which to view my experiences. 

IMG_7144.JPGWhat struck me most about the kids at Westwind in comparison to the kids at Tu Nidito is that they are genuinely interested in doing what adults want. In nearly every situation at Westwind,  a simple, “I need you to focus on the group right now,” can successfully redirect a kid, at least for the moment. That is simply not true at Tu Nidito, where the kids are more focused on themselves and less receptive to adult intervention. While some of this may be that the kid’s grief in manifesting itself, the atmospheres of the two places are just very different. Tu Nidito is full of toys and games and friends you only get to see twice a month, while Westwind’s biggest distraction appears to be all the sand on the ground, and students are surrounded by their classmates and teachers who they see almost daily. 

The environments are different because they are meant, at least at the surface, to serve different purposes – healing vs learning. However, while talking with a program leader at Westwind last week, he commented that “The science stuff is just an excuse – it’s not what Westwind is really about.” This really crystalized a point that I’d been thinking about for a while. Despite the surface level differences, it’s really the similarities that have drawn me to both Westwind and Tu Nidito – the sort of instant camaraderie and idea of constant, joyful reinvention. Thus, the science “excuse” allows Westwind to have more focused, receptive kids, while still serving much of the same purpose. IMG_7155.JPG

This is my thought for the week, and I’m not sure it holds up. Getting kids to share about their special person and grief in a structured way is a unique part of the process that Westwind has no similarities with, so I’m not sure that Westwind’s ethos of an interdependent community working towards the same goals could work at Tu Nidito – after all, each of these kids is instead working towards the very different goals of understanding their own grief. In my facilitation of grief groups this week, I will be keeping an eye out for the ideas of community and respect for each other and how those can be incorporated into my final project. IMG_7141.JPG

Week 4: Research and Travel

This week at Tu Nidito was all internship because the way the groups are scheduled means that in the 5th week of the month there are no groups. Instead, I continued to do data entry, set new answering machine messages, and did organizational work in our volunteer database.

For my research, I’ve continued to read lots of children’s books about grief. I’ve become interested in what parts of death and grief are metaphorized vs told literally. The metaphors (such as a person “disappearing”) can allow books to apply to children bereaved by both death and serious illness, but can reduce the gravity and specificity of the story. Walking that line is going to be difficult, especially because I am writing for a middle school audience that is slightly older than the younger kids that these books are targeted towards.

Today, I am traveling from Tucson to Portland ahead of my time at Camp Westwind, where I will work with (mostly) non-bereaved kids in a more academic setting. I’m really looking forward to it, especially as my confidence in working with kids as grown tremendously in the past months of group facilitating.

Week 3.5: Books

Last night I had my last group on this week’s theme. Because of spring break, and because group was scheduled at the same time as the U of A game, attendance was low. This meant that we found ourselves looking for ways to fill time, as the questions went shorter than they normally would, and ended up spending a good 20 minutes drawing with the kids. This sort of unstructured time is often really good as it allows the kids to share freely without the same pressure that they might feel when asked a specific question in front of the group. One of the middle schoolers had experienced the recent loss of his grandmother, on top of the parental death that he was originally attending for, and he talked all through our drawing time about her life.

As far as my internship responsibilities, yesterday was a day of tying up all the loose ends. This included cleaning out a sandbox, restocking kleenex, data entry, and auditing our data system to make sure it matches the group rosters.

As I’ve begun to move ahead with writing my picture book, I “checked out” a bunch of examples from the Tu Nidito library. I’m looking forward to reading them today, and beginning to understand exactly how past authors have addressed this topic.

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Week 3: Interning

For the office work side of my internship, I’ve had several tasks this week. I’ve continued to do data entry, logging volunteer hours for all the groups, and as the first quarter has come to an end, I’ve begun calculating different stats for the groups, such as attendance rate. I’ve also continued to audit the volunteer files to make sure everyone’s paperwork is in order.

My new project this week involves a program called memory beads, where kids can make a necklace that represents their journey with bereavement. There are different colored beads meant to represent different emotions and moments they may have experienced, and letters and numbers so they can spell out their special person’s name and date of death/diagnosis. It’s a really cool program that’s often used in classrooms and community groups as a form of immediate grief intervention when someone dies. Unfortunately, the person who ordered the beads didn’t check the size of the holes before they mixed them in, and now there are a bunch of beads that don’t fit on the string. My job is to check each individual bead and discard the ones that aren’t useable. It would be awful to find a bead that perfectly represented your struggle only to have it not fit on the string, so while this project is fairly tedious, I know it’s for a good cause. Also, there’s this horse painted on the wall that keeps me company.

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Week 3: More Change

Last night, I had the CPC group (children with a parent with cancer). Because last group night we had lots of issues with not listening and acting rambunctious during group, at the beginning of free time yesterday we circled up and talked together about the importance of the rules, and how they allow Tu Nidito to be a safe space where we can feel respected. The kids really seemed to grasp this, and group was much calmer. We also had less than half the number of kids as last time, which didn’t hurt.

At the end of the night, I helped to pass out the PB&J with Love meals that I had helped to make! It was cool to have been part of the whole process of getting these meals to these families, and I’m looking forward to doing it again.

In terms of my final project, I’ve started to talk with my on-site advisor about making a children’s book as a culmination of my research. I’ve found that reading academic articles is more engaging when I have this creative project in mind, and I’m looking forward to it.

Week 2: Change

At Tu Nidito this week, we’re talking about change. A couple months ago, the groups did an activity where they glued together a broken flower pot to symbolize that, while grief can make one feel broken, together we can reconstruct ourselves in a new way. Many of the younger groups grew impatient with putting the pot back into its original shape, and opted instead to make abstract sculptures out of the shattered pieces, unintentionally furthering that week’s theme.

This week, we planted seeds in those flowerpots, and used the process of seeds becoming plants to talk about the importance of change to all living things. Our questions revolved around what has changed in their lives since the death/diagnosis, and what they would change about their lives if they could. These sorts of questions can be difficult for the kids whose special person has been dead or ill for a long time, and don’t really remember what life was like before this big change in their life. However, in the Thursday 1 group,which has many kids who have experienced a high-trauma loss such as a suicide, homicide, or overdose, the kids really responded to the idea of change. Many of them were put into foster care or adopted by relatives after their special person died, and even more had switched schools or moved houses, and they were all eager to share about all the changes in their lives that had resulted from the death.

The office work side of my internship has also been going well. I’ve started an audit of all the volunteer files to make sure that everyone’s paperwork is in order, and continued to do lots of data entry to record volunteer hours. I also co-led the making of our “PB&J with Love” meals that go to single parents with cancer (or another serious illness). A group from a local United Methodist church met another intern and I at a local industrial kitchen, and we made 36 three-person meals in less than an hour. I’ve been facilitating groups for the kids whose families receive these meals for more than six months now, so it was really cool to be a part of the behind-the-scenes of that process.

Week 1: Anger

At Tu Nidito this week, we have been discussing anger. We’ve been talking with the kids about ways that they have felt angry about the death or diagnosis in their life, and doing an activity where we write down pet peeves on pieces of paper and put them in a jar. By the time we’re done, the jar is overflowing as the kids tamp down the pieces of paper to make room for more. We use this visual to talk about how when we bottle up our anger, we have less control over how it will escape, and segue to asking the kids about ways that we can release anger so that we don’t accidently hurt ourselves or people around us.

The groups that I’ve facilitated this week have responded to our theme very differently. In my Thursday I bereavement group, we had a couple new middle schoolers join group this week, and they were reluctant to share until they had become more acquainted with the other kids. That’s pretty typical for new kids, and this was a particularly difficult question to jump right into for the new kids; it requires more introspection than most middle schoolers are used to. A lot of the older kids were absent as well, so it was just a subdued group without a lot of deeper insight. That said, they did really get into the activity and it was clear that they grasped the ideas about anger that we were presenting, they just weren’t quite comfortable sharing.

The other group that I talked about anger with was CPC (Children with a Parent with Cancer). This group is big and the middle schoolers are particularly high-energy, and can often be unfocused and disruptive. This group was one of those nights, and the kids were incredibly rambunctious and unwilling to listen or participate. This was especially frustrating because several of the families had received updated diagnoses, including one parent who had entered hospice care, and there were definitely kids there who could have used focused support. It was interesting to note for my project, however, that there seemed to be no relationship between the “severity” of the parent’s diagnosis and the rambunctiousness of the kid. While I knew that everyone processes stress differently and kids can display that in all sorts of ways, I think that I’d still assumed that the kids whose parents were sicker would act out more. That simply isn’t true, and even siblings can behave in totally different ways.

I also started office work this week, and have been busy filing paperwork and entering data into Tu Nidito’s computer system. It’s funny to see all the administrative bureaucracy behind the empathetic and personal work that Tu Nidito does. It reminds me a lot of the political campaigns I’ve worked on, and their databases for voter contact. I’m not quite sure what to make of the similarities, but I am glad that the familiarity I do have has made getting used to the system easier.

In the upcoming week, I’ll be joining a new bereavement group and helping to lead meal preparation for a program called PB & J with Love, which provides meals for single parents with cancer, many of whom I know through the CPC group. I’m glad that my internship is allowing me to get involved with Tu Nidito in these news ways, and excited to see what they’ll be like.