Photo by AMANDA CALDWELL PHOTOGRAPHY
About 15 years ago, a social worker at a local high school called the team at Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County (HPCIC) after the sudden loss of a student in a car accident. In search of someone to come to the school and support their staff and students, that crucial first call and visit launched an amazing new program for HPCIC, Rainbow Kidz, which now holds group grief sessions, as needed, in 39 schools across Iredell County.
The first blessing: Rainbow Kidz is offered at no cost, and is completely supported by grants and fundraising.
“Our in-school grief groups are certainly the most impactful part of our Rainbow Kidz program, and we have found providing grief support and education right in the schools allows us to reach the maximum number of children at one time,” says Mindy Rice, Director of Development.
Rainbow Kidz is also blessed to provide services for over 200 children in any given week, onsite at their schools, and with the help of two licensed clinical social workers – Leigh Ann Darty, LSCW, who is the director of Rainbow Kidz, and Meredith Fleming, LCSW. Meredith was a Rainbow Kidz participant herself, when her dad died her senior year in high school. She credits Leigh Ann and Rainbow Kidz with giving her the courage to leave home to attend college, and is now helping other children with that same passion.
One-on-one counseling is also available for both children and families, including support for those dealing with infant loss.
“Besides the difficulties of Covid, we have seen an increase in sudden, tragic deaths,” Mindy explains. “This has resulted in very complicated grief. When a child has more complicated grief – or if their current school is on our waiting list – one-on-one counseling may be a better fit.”
Rainbow Kidz also holds two weeks of summer grief camp, affectionately named Camp Rainbow, a support group at the Boys & Girls Club of the Piedmont, and a group at the YMCA Summer Camp/Bridge Academy, which includes summer camp for homeless children. The group sponsors a “Healing around the Holidays” workshop in November to teach coping skills around he holiday season. During this workshop, parents and guardians also meet with a grief counselor for tips on guiding their children during the difficult holiday months.
“Rainbow Kidz is here for any child coping with an illness, or for grief support after losing someone,” adds Mindy. “We provide Hospice or palliative care services for any child dealing with a terminal illness, and we can provide pre-bereavement for children with loved ones dealing with a serious illness. Typically held in the child’s home, these services help prepare them for the impending death of someone special.”
Mindy says the staff often hears stories of kids taking the skills they learn with Rainbow Kidz home with them, and teaching other family members as well.
“The bravery these children demonstrate is inspiring,” she says. “It takes great courage to sit in front of a group and talk openly about a loss, especially when most likely it’s the loss of a parent or sibling.”
Their success is all about having the right coping tools, which allows kids to feel comfortable sharing personal memories about someone they’ve lost.
Unique to Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County, Rainbow Kidz is the only program of its kind in the area, and was one of the very few outside organizations allowed back in schools after Covid.
“The partnership and trust we have built with our school systems has helped us reach so many children,” says Mindy. Those children – and their families – are eternally grateful!
To learn more about the incredible services offered by Rainbow Kidz, or to donate, visit www.hoic.com/rainbow-kidz or call 704-873-4719. Follow them on Instagram @rainbowkidz_iredell for updates and heartwarming stories of healing!