By Whitney McIntosh
Each year in New York City, over 4,000 children experience the death of a parent or sibling. The majority of those grieving children do not receive the counseling and support that they may need and deserve. Parents may not be aware that resources exist, and others may face a cultural stigma about seeking emotional support. That is why A Caring Hand exists.
A Caring Hand’s sole goal over the last 8 years has been to devote as much time and resources as possible to helping families and children through times of unimaginable grief no matter what the source: accidents, crime, illness, natural causes or self-harm. In group or individual sessions, services cater to each individual family’s situation. Even with the generous donations from supporters and foundations, A Caring Hand has been limited in providing support and guidance to families throughout the city during one of the worst and confusing times in their lives. For example, until now, no such services existed in New York for bilingual families.
In late March, A Caring Hand launched the city’s first bilingual family grief program. At a press event on March 1st, A Caring Hand announced that thanks to the generous support of the New York Life Foundation and A Little Hope, Inc., the organization was moving forward to be the first and only nonprofit in the city providing grief counseling for children age 5-17 and their Spanish-speaking parents and caregivers.
In a sunlit and mahogany-rimmed room of the City University of New York’s Harlem campus, longtime supporters and staff of A Caring Hand beamed with pride as they detailed the new program and how overjoyed they were to finally include bilingual families into their sessions. This has resulted in record enrollment with the addition of a group of Spanish-speaking mothers.
Speakers included A Caring Hand founder Susan Esposito-Lombardo, Dr. Robin Goodman, Executive Director and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
“It’s one thing to be known at school as the kid who’s good at baseball or math, but another to be known as the kid whose dad died. Grieving children often hate feeling different. And they don’t know where to turn to sort through a jumble of new feelings that can include sadness, guilt and anger,” said Dr. Goodman.
One of the main features of the services at A Caring Hand is the 11-week group sessions where families come together. After pizza (one of the universal New York City kid-pleasers) the children [age 5-17] meet in groups, the youngest, middle and teens separately, while their parents and caregivers have their own group. “The kids meet others who are going through exactly the same thing, and it’s an enormous relief for them to know they are not alone and have a place to share memories and sort out emotions. They gain new coping skills and even have fun. In the adult group, members express their concerns, gain support and learn to be a confident parent,” Dr. Goodman said.
A Caring Hand intake clinician Tamara Velasquez, whom Spanish-speaking callers first speak to, enthusiastically welcomed the attendees in Spanish and English. She proceeded to impress upon the crowd and any concerned families the importance of simply taking the first step and picking up the phone, finding hope at the other end of the line.
Borough President Brewer expressed her support and encouragement, focusing on the impact that the bilingual capabilities of the program will have on the city as a whole, where services can be lacking. Now that ACH has increased capabilities to support bilingual children and families it will make all the difference to close some of those gaps.
Susan Esposito-Lombardo, who started the A Caring Hand memory of her father Billy Esposito, who died on 9/11, was one of the most affecting of all the day’s speakers. Esposito-Lombardo recalled her father and his kindhearted behavior towards all. In her touching remarks, she shared some of her own story, knowing what it is like when your life changes in an instant, worrying about her mom who, in turn, worried about her and her brother. Esposito-Lombardo notes how the foundation is expanding in new and beneficial ways that would make her father proud, being there for as many families as possible from all corners of the city with a growing, caring community for its most vulnerable residents, its children.
Families who are interested in A Caring Hand should call 1-212-229-CARE (2273) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit the website at www.acaringhand.org. Sessions are conducted in Midtown Manhattan and Harlem.