New Collaborative Program: Nuestra Jornada
Nuestra Jornada, Compartiendo y Sanando (Our Journey, Sharing and Healing) is a peer support program addressing grief and loss for children and teenagers whose families have come to Santa Fe from Mexico and Central America. Designed and supported by a Bilingual Advisory Committee of bilingual community partners, the pilot phase of this program launched in October 2015 at Cesar Chavez Elementary School, Ortiz Middle School, De Vargas Middle School and Gerard’s House. With the support of funding partners A Little Hope Foundation and the CHRISTUS Fund, the Committee, and many collaborative partners, we served 39 children and teenagers in the pilot phase, from October to December 2015.
The need for this program of Spanish-language peer grief support groups is very great, and the project has already been met with an outpouring of support and gratitude from Spanish-speaking families, businesses, schools and youth-serving agencies. None of the 39 youth participants served during the Nuestra Jornada pilot phase had ever received grief support services before, though many had experienced multiple significant losses. As with other Gerard’s House programs, the foundation of Nuestra Jornada is peer support, letting children and teenagers see that they’re not alone and creating an environment of safety and acceptance where the grief process can unfold. Nuestra Jornada unites youth in their common journeys: journeys of grief, journeys of immigration and journeys of healing.
The Need: Nuestra Jornada was created in response to increasing requests for Spanish-language services for grieving children and teenagers, and especially for those whose families have been victims of violent deaths connected to the human rights crises in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The program also supports grief caused by separation from family members (including parents) who are living outside the United States and grief from ambiguous losses, such as family members who have been kidnapped or who have disappeared.
When Nuestra Jornada Coordinator Roxana Melendez goes out in the community to connect with families who have come to Santa Fe from Mexico or Central America, they encounter people who have faced walls upon walls – the wall at the border, walls to medical care, walls to education and walls to employment. For many Spanish-speaking immigrant families, meeting Roxana, Susan or our bilingual outreach volunteers was the first time someone in Santa Fe stepped towards them with validation and support. The fact that it is a coalition of people who are both inside and outside their community makes it even more meaningful.
Types of Losses: Children and teenagers participating in the fall Nuestra Jornada pilot project had experienced deaths in their families by suicide, homicide, accident and illness. Several participants also had parents or other family members who had been kidnapped by the cartels or who had disappeared. Most participants in the program were also grieving because they had been separated from loved ones who were living in other countries because of work status, legal status or deportation. Many had also experienced various kinds of trauma, ranging from seeing their parents kidnapped, to witnessing cartel violence, to undergoing the difficult and dangerous trek to a safe haven in our community from Mexico or one or more Central American countries.
How the Program Helped: Many children in the program showed marked positive changes in behavior as they progressed through the weekly groups. They became visibly calmer and happier when they had help coping with their losses and outlets for expression in a supportive environment. These changes were noticed by teachers, school counselors, parents and by our Nuestra Jornada team. What was most pronounced in all 4 groups was the increase in children’s and teenagers’ ability to understand how these losses and tragic life events were affecting them, along with a dramatic shift in their freedom and facility expressing their feelings and thoughts about their losses.
Funding Partners: The Nuestra Jornada program would not have begun without A Little Hope Foundation, a national foundation for grieving children, which invited Gerard’s House to apply for funding to create this expansion program when it was just a vision. A Little Hope Foundation funded a substantial portion of the 2015 pilot project costs, and with its support, our staff was able to spend two days with Alesia Alexander Layne from Project KARMA in Atlanta, who shared her expertise about creating expansion programs for communities of difference. The other major funder of the pilot program was The CHRISTUS Fund, a national foundation connected with our local hospital, the CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.
Bilingual Advisory Committee and Design of the Program: To help us better understand how to serve children and teenagers whose families have come from Mexico and Central America, in 2014 Gerard’s House collaborated with Chris Sanchez of the City of Santa Fe Children and Youth Commission to create a community Bilingual Advisory Committee made up of colleagues and community leaders who work with and advocate for Spanish-speaking immigrant families every day. With this Committee’s help and guidance throughout 2015, Nuestra Jornada has become a remarkably accessible program, with barriers to participation all but erased. By providing Spanish-language groups in the schools in the way the Committee designed and recommended, we are breaking down 3 important barriers to service delivery. The first is language. The second is ease of access. The third is trust. The Committee of passionate community colleagues not only helped us design the program in ways that make it easy for youth to participate, but also has been integrally involved in every step of its implementation. For this, we especially thank the City of Santa Fe Children and Youth Commission, Santa Fe Public Schools, Communities in Schools of New Mexico, Solace Crisis Treatment Center, the City of Santa Fe Immigration Task Force and the Santa Fe Dreamers Project.
Staff and Volunteers: Nuestra Jornada Program Coordinator Roxana Melendez has done an outstanding job marketing, coordinating and running the pilot program this year, helped by a team of 4 dedicated bilingual volunteer facilitators.