Excela launches program for grieving children
Dale Cordial knows the kind of grief young children experience with the loss of a parent.
He saw it in his granddaughter’s eyes.
Chloe Hall, who will be 5 next month, lost her mother, Jamie Cordial Hall, 16 months ago. Cordial’s daughter and the vibrant 38-year-old mother of two died of postpartum hemorrhage weeks after the birth of her son, Cody.
Now the Jamie Cordial Hall Foundation that the family established in her memory is joining Excela Health to help underwrite Neighborhood Kids, Westmoreland County’s first free family-based bereavement support program for children.
Chloe and her family will participate in the Neighborhood Kids inaugural series for children ages 5 to 9. The four-week program begins Monday at Excela Latrobe. Programs aimed at adolescents ages 10 to 13 and teens ages 14 to 19 are scheduled to begin in November and December.
Programs are age-specific because experts have learned that children experience grief and death differently as they grow older.
“One of the goals of the program is to help children process their grief. We’ve seen when they can’t process their grief well, it can turn into other things like anger management,” said Maureen Ceidro, an Excela bereavement counselor.
Highmark Caring Place offers bereavement programs for children in Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg and Cranberry. Ceidro said workers in Excela’s hospice program saw a need for such services in central Westmoreland County.
Dale Cordial said the project seemed a good fit for Jamie’s foundation, given that its mission is to help children who have lost their parents and support others in need in central Westmoreland.
The numbers would seem to support the need.
“In our hospice, we serve 700 to 800 families every year. Each death is accompanied by people who grieve the loss, which includes children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews,” Ceidro said.
Neighborhood Kids is the product of two years of intense collaboration between Excela and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College and Seton Hill University’s art therapy program.
“Right off the bat, it sounds like a sad thing to do, but we’re approaching it with light and energy so when the children come here it is going to be a positive experience. We want to provide a place to share their feelings, and we want them to leave on a happy note,” Ceidro said.
The four-week program incorporates art, music and pet therapy to tackle the question “What do you do with the sad that you feel?” — a question the late Fred Rogers posed as part of an episode of his “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” children’s television show dealing with loss.
The program provides counseling for parents or guardians dealing with grieving children while the children’s group is off working through issues with a trained counselor through art, music and pet therapy.
Experts say such work has taken on added significance across the region with the opioid epidemic, as more children are left to deal with the trauma of a parent’s death from overdose.
Dana Winters, of the Fred Rogers Center, said her staff mined the Rogers archives for the late TV icon’s work focusing on children and grief and looked at the work of the Caring Place.
“The Caring Place is such an amazing place. We talked with them about grief and how children experience it. We relied on what they did and our resources in the archives, the expertise of Excela Home Hospice and Seton Hill art therapy to take what Fred had said and put it to work for a new generation of children,” Winters said.
Ceidro said Excela has reached out to churches and funeral directors in an effort to reach those most in need.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .