Ele’s Place brings grief healing into schools

Ottawa County

HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Children grieve differently than adults — a fact a West Michigan organization knows well.

Dealing with death is life-altering for children and how they experience this grief journey can have big effects on their life as they grow up. 

Since 2013, Ele’s Place West Michigan has been offering up a place for grieving children to work through their loss.

“Really what we’re doing is helping those kids remove those barriers for themselves. We’re not doing it for them. We’re just giving them the tools,” said Jaime Counterman, director of Ele’s Place West Michigan

Counterman says Ele’s Place helps 100 families a week at its Grand Rapids location. Beginning in 2015, the organization has gone into the schools to work with groups of students dealing with loss.

“We’re giving them the language. We’re giving them the time and the permission to be real about what they’re feelings are and to tell them it’s OK to have those feelings,” Counterman said.

The group includes 8 to 12 students, a counselor or social worker from their school and an Ele’s Place representative. They meet for an hour a week for two months.

“We’re removing travel barriers, we’re removing time barriers for adults and really giving kids that time during the day with their peers in their environment to work through this grief process,” Counterman said

At least one local school official knows how the organization can help during difficult times.

Rodney Brandsen taught at Holland Christian High School for 20 years and now serves as the principal at Rose Park Christian Elementary School in Holland.

He’s seen students grow and graduate, but he’s also been there for the hardest of times.

Brandsen remembers Caroline Kanis, who was a student at Rose Park Christian.

She was only 9 years old when she succumbed to a rare brain stem tumor in 2017, leaving her family, friends and her school community grieving.

“Over the course of the year, (Caroline) was in and out of school and when she passed away, I was familiar enough with the people of Ele’s Place,” Brandsen said.

As a child, Brandsen lost his brother to a similar condition and knows how unguided grief can affect children.

He reached out to Ele’s Place to help the Rose Park community navigate through this grief journey.

Brandsen is now on the organization’s board and artwork by local artist Joel Schoon-Tanis inspired by Caroline’s life hangs in the hallway at the elementary school.

“I was inspired, frankly, by the mission and the organization,” Brandsen said.

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