FIRST HAND Our House: Where Nobody Grieves Alone

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New to the San Fernando Valley, but serving Los Angeles since 1993, Our House is a  remarkable non-profit organization that provides grief support services, education, resources and hope to adults and children (as young as four) who have experienced the death of someone close.  Established by Jo-Ann Lautman, it gives those who are grieving  the opportunity to begin that process in a safe, warm and nurturing environment, with the healing enhanced through the relationships that are developed in support groups.

Two young children walk in memory of their mothers. Photo: Our House

I know these groups first hand because for the last seven years, I have been an Our House children’s group leader. Having experienced the sudden death of my own father when I was six, I valued the opportunity to give back, first-hand, the compassion and understanding that I wished had been available when I felt so lost and heartbroken. As a volunteer, it has been an honor to bear witness to the stories these young ones tell.

The little ones enter the room, some escorted to the door by a parent, some bounding in on their own. Once they’ve all arrived, they begin waving their hands in the air hoping they will be chosen to get the talking stick by one of the two adult group leaders. They know that whoever gets it, will be the first in the group to share. And at five years old, that feels like a huge honor. It’s a ritual that starts the same way each and every time the Little Group meets.Clenching the talking stick, in reality a cardboard tube, decorated by all the members of the group, the hour starts. “My name is Chris. I’m five years old. My father died from cancer. My favorite colors are blue and yellow and one fun thing I did since the last time I was here is, go to the beach.”

The rest of the hour races by with moments of sadness and sounds of laughter as group leaders offer up activities ranging from fun holiday art projects, to story time to drawing in their individual grief journals. Bringing in pictures of the parent who died along with personal memorabilia brought from home is something the children especially love to share.

Our House serves over 7,000 people each year through various in-house and school-based programs. There are in house support groups for children, teens, and adults who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling, spouse, or other close friend or relative. School based support groups serve inner city, and at-risk- youth who have experienced the death of someone close. For grieving children, ages 6-17, there is Camp Erin — a weekend-long camp experience for grieving children ages 6-17.

Additionally, there are education programs for first-year medical students at UCLA and USC, rabbinical students/clergy, and mental health professionals, as well as community grief response offering support to schools, organizations, and businesses after the death of a classmate, client, or co-worker.

Run for Hope, the annual 5K event brings together all ages walking side by side, some wearing t-shirts bearing the picture of the person in the life who died. It is both heartwarming and uplifting.

Our House is life changing not only for those who grieve, but also for those of us who are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to volunteer. Interested? There’s always a need. 21860 Burbank Blvd., Suite 195  Woodland Hills. 818.222.3344/ 1663 Sawtelle Blvd, Suite 300. Los Angeles, 310.473.1511   Contact Jessica Krell regarding Camp Erin at 310-473-1511 x 212

Marley Sims is a television writer/producer whose credits include Home Improvement. She is currently writing an internet series for the website, Old Jews Telling Jokes, with her husband, Fred Rubin.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • adina

    Really fine article. If I were out there, I’d volunteer. Children can teach you so many things about dealing with grief. I worked in a children’s hospital one summer and carried lessons away that have lasted a lifetime. Bon chance, Marley.

  • Jennifer

    My father passed away in November of 2007 and I don’t know what I would have done without the support of Our House. Thank you to all those that are a part of this wonderful organization and to Marley for shining a spotlight on their wonderful work.
    ~ Jennifer W.

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