In the face of profound loss, the grief seemed overwhelming.
After Hailey Cambron’s father died when she was just 12, her mother and stepfather were perplexed about how to help her. They wanted to find a way to help her process her loss.
The White River Township family was repeatedly directed towards an organization called Brooke’s Place.
“I was really nervous, but also really excited. I had a lot of mixed feelings,” said Hailey, now 14 and an eighth-grader at Center Grove Middle School North. “But it’s been really helpful finding other kids going through the same thing I am.”
More than year later, Hailey credits Brooke’s Place with helping her at one of her most vulnerable times. She is one of thousands of children who have found comfort through Brooke’s Place. The organization focuses on helping children and families as they deal with the death of a loved one, providing support groups, therapy services and community education.
“I love everything that Brooke’s Place has to offer,” said Ashley McCauley, Hailey’s mother. “It’s been wonderful for Hailey. She’s been able to find other people who are going through the same thing. She sees that she’s not alone.”
Research estimates that 150,000 Indiana children will experience the death of a parent or sibling by the age of 18, which makes the services offered by Brooke’s Place critical to ensure kids feel safe and supported while they grieve.
“One size doesn’t fit all. We might have a child who responds really well to a one-on-one therapy approach, but may not respond well to group therapy, or vice versa,” said Theresa Brun, executive director of Brooke’s Place. “It’s a way to really reach the kids where they are so they feel safe, supported on their grief journey.”
Brooke’s Place opened its doors in 1999 for its first program night. The nonprofit had been created in the wake of the crash of American Eagle Flight 4184, which killed all 68 people on board on Oct. 31, 1994, in Roselawn, Indiana. One of those on board was Tom Wright, an executive of DowElanco.
Pam Wright, a family friend not related to Tom Wright, realized his children and other kids who were impacted by the tragedy, would need ongoing support. She banded together with other supporters to create a grieving center in Indianapolis — named after Tom Wright’s daughter.
Since that time, more than 27,000 children and their families have been helped by Brooke’s Place.
“What we know about unresolved childhood grief is it can cause a whole host of challenges for children who have experienced the death of someone significant to them,” Brun said. “Those challenges can be lifelong.”
According to research by Columbia University, 70% of primary schools in the United States have bereaved students, while 85% of schools reported post-bereavement problems.
In a survey of 300 incarcerated teens, 96% indicated that someone significant in their lives had died.
Columbia researchers also found 92% of young people in drug and rehabilitation treatment programs have experienced the death of a loved one. The majority of these teens revealed that the abuse of these drugs occurred following the death, as they knew no other way out of their pain.
“If we can address those challenges early on, we can help them learn healthy coping skills. We can help them communicate their feelings in a way that is meaningful for them,” Brun said. “It’s really hoping to avoid those challenges that bereaved youth are at risk for.”
The organization added a therapy services program in 2008, and has conducted more than 14,000 counseling sessions since then.
Additional programming, such as outreach support groups for underserved individuals, have been introduced since then.
One of the most popular programs offered by Brooke’s Place is Camp Healing Tree. The weekend-long camp brings together grieving children ages 7 to 17 for a traditional camp experience — from swimming to campfires.
Hailey was able to attend the camp for the first time this summer. They tie-dyed T-shirts, did arts and crafts, and even got to decorate old guitars donated by Guitar Center, then smash them if they wanted to.
Hailey started attending twice-monthly group counseling at Brooke’s Place in 2022, a few months after her father’s death. She and other young people who have lost loved ones get together for pizza dinners, and often have treats such as cupcakes to celebrate birthdays and other milestones.
“They do everything they can to bridge that gap, of providing that comfort,” McCauley said.
Often, a pair of therapy dogs are available to comfort the kids.
“They make you very relaxed. That’s one of my favorite parts about it,” she said.
A core part of the meet-ups is remembering their loved ones. At each session, they start by saying the name of the person they lost, and their own name.
“Sometimes, they ask us what our favorite memory of them is, or what they were like,” Hailey said.
Brooke’s Place also features a “volcano room” — a place where kids can go when their emotions seem too big and they need to find a healthy release.
“It’s nice to go in there if you’re overwhelmed,” Hailey said.
One of Hailey’s favorite activities through Brooke’s Place was a partnership with Agape Therapeutic Riding, which uses horseback riding as a form of therapy.
During Camp Healing Tree in August, the campers were invited to bring an item that reminded them of their loved one, to share with the group. Hailey brought a necklace with her father’s photograph on it, and his thumbprint in it. She also brought in a Christmas ornament with his photo.
Being able to share about helped with the pain of losing him, she said. She’s thankful for Brooke’s Place for giving her the chance.
“They try really hard to help you. There a lot of fun things to do, but if you’re not comfortable doing those, you don’t have to,” Hailey said. “They want you to try getting outside your comfort zone, but if it’s too triggering for you, they understand that.”
AT A GLANCE
What: A nonprofit organization focused on helping children and families as they deal with the death of a loved one, providing support groups, therapy services and community education.
Who: Brooke’s Place offers services for children, teens, young adults, and their families
Programs: Ongoing grief support group; BP8 Outreach grief support group, aimed at reaching underserved individuals and communities impacted by all causes of death, especially death by homicide; therapy services; Camp Healing Tree, and community education.
How to help: Brooke’s Place is in need of volunteers, who directly serve children and families in the grief support groups, Camp Healing Tree and more. To learn more about volunteering, go to brookesplace.org/get-involved
IF YOU GO
Legacy of Hope Breakfast
What: An annual fundraiser for Brooke’s Place to help support services for grieving children, teens, young adults and their families. At this no-cost event, enjoy a hot breakfast while making a difference in the lives of bereaved youth.
When: 7:30-9 a.m. Nov. 16
Where: Ritz Charles, 12156 N. Meridian St., Carmel
For more information, contact Larissa Warne at [email protected]