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When local lawyer-turned-businessman Shawn Askinosie finally worked through the grief of losing his dad as a child years after the fact, a non-profit organization to help children who have lost someone close to them was born.
Askinosie talked through his grief as an adult with Dr. Karen Scott, who worked as a bereavement counselor in the Springfield Schools. When she had an idea for a place where grieving children could get help but didn’t know how to make that idea a reality, Askinosie stepped forward.
Lost and Found Grief Center began offering free group sessions for children who have lost a sibling, parent or primary caregiver at the start of 2001 on the top floor of Askinosie’s law office at the corner of National and Walnut.
When it outgrew that space, the organization moved to an old house at Pythian and Cedarbrook. Seven years later it’s out of room again as the need continues to grow.
According to Dr. Scott, now the executive director of Lost and Found, the 2000 census said that one in 20 children under the age of 18 will experience the death of a parent…
"And at that time when we figured that for our service area, which at that time was 15 counties, that was over 10,000 children. That doesn't count the death of a sibling, and we not know that those numbers are much higher than they were in 2000 so the need is tremendous," she said.
The Center currently serves about 255 children and adults who come for grief support two times a month. Sessions are offered twice weekly.
Nanette Thomas is program and resource coordinator at Lost and Found. She works with families who come seeking help. She says the goal is to provide kids with healthy coping mechanisms and teach them to work through the very complicated feelings and emotions they might have…
"that maybe they can't share with their parents or their siblings but they can share in a group full of other kids who understand what's going on," she said.
According to Scott, one of the things Lost and Found does is normalize the intense emotions grieving children are feeling. She says grief is very overwhelming and in general our society isn’t very open about it…
"and so often they will come thinking, 'I'm not doing very well with this.' Then when they get in a group with other kids their age and find out they can't sleep, they're afraid to sleep with the lights off, they worry about 'what if something happens to the other parent?' that inability to concentrate. As soon as they hear, 'oh my gosh. All these other kids have that, too,' it normalizes it," she said.
She says kids then have the chance to talk about their feelings and learn how to incorporate the loss into their life so they can move forward in a healthy way with hope for the future.
According to Nanette Thomas, being understood as a child and being with other kids who have gone through similar experiences are so important…
"Grief is so isolating for children, and trying to work through all those emotions and issues that kids have whenever someone they love dies, it changes everything about their life. Coming to Lost and Found is a safe place for kids to take that mask off of being happy all the time and really communicating about what they're missing in life, what's going on, and it really helps them to move forward in life and have a happy, healthy future," she said.
The average time a person seeks help at Lost and Found is 12 to 14 months although some have stayed as long as three years.
While children are in group, parents meet upstairs to work through their own grief and to learn ways to help their kids cope.
Thomas says Children are encouraged to take part in scheduled activities including art projects, journaling and activities that elicit conversation…
"Because we know that if kids can learn to talk about their grief they can work through it," she said.
It’s harder for some kids than others to find a sense of closure. According to Scott, about 30% of the kids who come to Lost and Found for help have lost a parent through suicide. Still others have lost a parent to murder—some at the hands of the other parent.
But the center sees many success stories. Dr. Karen Scott has seen kids completely transformed. She points to a teenager whose mother had died and there was no father figure in his life…
"We really struggled with him. He was in such a dark place and struggled so much, and at one point even made a suicide attempt. We worked with his therapist, got him back in group and when he did his closing ceremony they pick these three rocks. He picked one black rock, one gray rock and one white rock and he said, 'this black rock represents me when I came here,' and he did--he always wore a black sweatshirt with a hood pulled over his head and in case that wasn't enough he'd pull a hat down too, and gradually over time he began opening up. He had been such an angry young man, and he said, 'the gray rock represents me while I was getting better, and this white rock represents how I am now. I'm whole. I can see how I'm gonna make it, and I couldn't have done it if it hadn't been for all of you,'" she said.
It’s the success stories that remind Dr. Scott, Nanette Thomas, the three other full-time staff members, part-time staff members and volunteers that what they do is filling a need in the community…
"It's the most rewarding job because you hear families say, 'I don't know what we would have done without Lost and Found. Lost and Found has made all the difference,'" she said.
She says it’s rewarding to be able to put a safety net under someone during the darkest time in their lives and help them feel supported and helped.
Lost and Found Grief Center serves people in the 16 counties surrounding Springfield. One family drives from West Plains.
Lost and Found operates on a few small grants, but Scott says most of their funding is through donations. To learn more about the organization, visit lostandfoundozarks.com.
For KSMU and the Sense of Community Series, I’m Michele Skalicky.