Gerard’s House is a safe place for grieving children, teens and families, where healing happens through acceptance and peer support.
Our model creates an important safety net for bereaved families and over the years has had a lasting, positive impact on the Santa Fe community. Since 1997, we have helped more than 10,000 children and youth regain hope, stabilize physically and psychologically, and restore sustaining relationships with family and friends in the face of serious loss. We are the only organization in northern New Mexico providing free, long-term grief support to children and “parenting in grief” support to their families.
In 1997, a small group of parents were part of a grief support group led by Sister Arlene Einwalter at Berardinelli’s Family Funeral Service. Many were grieving the deaths of teenaged children in the previous year. The acceptance and healing they experienced with each other made them aware that there was no place in Santa Fe where their children’s young siblings and friends could receive similar peer support.
Sister Arlene knew of a place called the Dougy Center in Portland, Oregon that offered peer grief support for children and teens. Together, she and the parents raised some money, traveled to the Dougy Center, and took the peer group facilitator training. They returned to Santa Fe and founded a grief support center for children and teens on the Dougy Center model. They named their center, “Gerard’s House,” after Gerard Sanchez, a young man who died in a car accident in 1996—the year he was a senior at Capital High.
Gerard’s House became a nonprofit corporation in June 1997, trained its first volunteer facilitators in January of 1998, and a few weeks later started its first unit of children’s peer grief support groups in a one-room facility run entirely by volunteers. Shortly after we moved into a larger space and hired our first paid staff.
With sensitive care and peer support, grieving children and their families restore themselves and each other and grow in positive, healthy ways. Skilled staff and volunteer facilitators at Gerard’s House create a safe place where any family can come to find acceptance, support and hope.
Our program is based on four principles:
- Grief is a natural reaction to death—for children as well as adults.
- Within each individual is the natural capacity to heal.
- The duration and intensity of grief are unique for every individual.
- Caring and acceptance assist in the healing process.
Our core program service is facilitated support groups in which grief is normalized and supported through interactions with peers and attention and support from caring adult facilitators. Children and youth build trust and express their feelings through group activities that include art, writing, drama, games, free play, group sharing, and memorializing of those who have died.
Concurrent parenting-in-grief support groups are offered for parents and caregivers. Weekly groups for both children and parents are organized by children’s age into eight-week “units,” and when units end, families are always welcome to enroll for one or more following units.