School t-shirt sales benefit Kids’ Circle bereavement program

Indian Creek Road Public School student t-shirt designers and staff present a cheque for $1,600 to Kids’ Circle staff.

Students and teachers at Chatham, Ontario’s Indian Creek Road Public School recently held a campaign to benefit VON’s Kids’ Circle program in Chatham-Kent, raising $1,600 through sales of 185 student-designed “kindness” t-shirts.

The school’s Student Wellness Team held a t-shirt design contest, and the three winning designs were printed on pink t-shirts, which were made available for sale to staff, students, families and the community.

“We wanted to donate proceeds from shirt sales to an organization that helps kids with a focus on wellness,” says Grade 7/8 teacher Heather Robbins. “As a team, we felt that VON's Kids’ Circle would be a great choice.”

Erin Crow, Kids’ Circle Program Supervisor, says donations to the program help support its mission to provide bereavement care to children in the community. While base funding comes from the United Way of Chatham-Kent, donations—like a recent grant from the Chatham Kent Community Foundation—ensure the program reaches more children in need.

The Kids’ Circle program helps children and teens aged four through 18 who are experiencing the death or illness of a loved one, or have a life-threatening illness themselves.

The program offers age-appropriate bereavement support activities and education that help the child grieve while providing tools for healthy grieving. Referrals can come from local schools and community agencies, or families can self-refer. 

Kids’ Circle is run by trained Child and Youth Workers. Children are first assessed to see if the program is right for them, and parents are given resources to help them support their children. Staff then creates a plan for one-to-one and/or group supports.

The program is unique in that children can return for as long as they need. “Everyone grieves on their own timeline and has their own grieving process,” says Erin. “A young child can re-grieve that loss when they get older. We let parents know it’s normal for them to bring it up again.”

Kids’ Circle does not provide clinical or professional counselling. If the effects of grief indicate a need for more than bereavement support, the team can make referrals in the community.

Clients of Kids’ Circle benefit from no-cost individual and group support in an environment where they can feel safe to share their feelings. Families can choose to have visits take place at the child's school, in hospital, at home or in a child-friendly space at the VON office.

The program is kid-friendly and includes fun opportunities, such as overnight bereavement camps and field trips to a farm with horses. “The kids are having fun while they are here, even though they are here for a sad reason,” explains Erin. “And it’s nice for them to be with other kids who have also lost someone.”
Erin has been with VON for 10 years and says she has a passion for the work. “It’s an amazing program. I just love what I do. My team and the volunteers, everyone is just great to work with.”

It takes a community

Volunteers support the Kids’ Circle team with set-up for groups and helping the children with activities and events. Volunteers first receive training and then shadow a long-time volunteer. 

Training focuses on what child grief may look like and how to support someone who is grieving. “Listening and being there is all we’re requiring of the volunteers,” says Erin. “We’re not there to change everyone’s feelings; we’re there to bear witness.”