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One in 20 children experience the death of a parent before the age of 16.
In a bigger picture, that is 2.3 million children currently grieving the loss of a mother or father in the United States.
Though nothing will ever replace the loss of a parent, Family Lives On is trying to help these children through supporting their emotional well-being.
“We help these children because it’s a bigger impact than just personally grieving,” said Kelly Becker, director of development and outreach. “A child who is grieving a death of a parent is two to three times more likely to have behavioral issues. Nobody talks about it because nobody wants to talk about it. What do you say?”
That’s where the foundation steps in.
The free nonprofit program, open to children ages 3 to 18 in the United States, aims at being a “Tradition Program.”
It’s a therapeutic tool to help the children continue the traditions they had with the deceased parent by providing what they need.
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“We provide them the means to do their tradition program,” Becker said. “The therapeutic part starts from the very first engagement on the website to see what’s available and what we do.”
First, there is a phone call made between the surviving caregiver and the program manager.
“Part of that phone call is what we call the therapeutic touch point where we are looking at how we can help make this easier on (the caregiver),” Becker said.
That’s followed up by a Skype session with the caregiver and child with the foundation.
Because of Skype’s ability to be accessed anywhere, it has allowed the foundation to expand across the United States and now serve children in 43 states.
“No doubt we’ll be in all 50 by the end of the year,” Becker said. “If not sooner over the next couple of months.”
From the Skype session, every minute detail of the tradition is recorded to make sure Family Lives On can get it as precise as possible.
The traditions have ranged from anywhere from baking to amusement parks.
In those two specific cases, Family Lives On would package and send baking ingredients or amusement park tickets to the child or children.
“We package up all the things they need to do (the tradition),” Becker said.
What makes Family Lives On unique is that it keeps the tradition going not through the foundation, but with the surviving parent.
“They do it with the family,” Becker said. “It promotes the inner-family connection and communication, which is another therapeutic touch point.”
Though the foundation has been around for 18 years, for the first 16 of that it was known as Mommy’s Light.
When the program started to service children who lost a father, Mommy’s Light morphed into what it is today in Family Lives On.
“It encompassed the mother and the father aspect,” Becker said.
To help raise money for the foundation, Family Lives On holds two big fundraising events annually.
The 11th annual Race for Traditions was held April 25 in Exton and, despite a brisk day reducing the attendance, still had a large turnout.
“It was a really good day,” Becker said. “We usually get 400 to 500 runners total to run or walk. We do a 5K, a one mile and, which is the best part of the day, a Tot Trot for the 5 and unders.”
For the 2015 event, Becker and the foundation had a special guest in Jon Dorenbos from the Philadelphia Eagles.
“We sought him out because he experienced the death of his mother when he was 12,” Becker said. “He grew up in foster care and understood what the loss of his mother really meant and the impact it had on his life.”
To help cope with the loss, Dorenbos turned to magic and learned sleight-of-hand tricks, which he showed off at the event.
“He’s really good,” Becker said. “He does some crazy tricks right in front of you and you’re like, ‘Where did that pen go?’”
But Dorenbos wasn’t the only guest of the day as Fox 29’s Jennaphr Frederick was the Grand Marshall and emcee.
New for this year at the event was the “Tradition Zone,” where there were some carnival games which all had significance because each game created was based on a tradition one of the kids in the program had.
Come November, Family Lives On will hold its other annual event, which is a black-tie affair.
“It’s called the ‘Traditions Ball,’” Becker said. “This year, it will be held at the Valley Forge Casino. We’re shaking it up a little bit.”
All money raised at the events goes right back to the foundation.
“We’re solely funded through charitable gifts,” Becker said. “We don’t have any other stream of income. When we enroll a child in the program, we make the pledge we will serve them every year until they turn 18. It’s a big undertaking for us.”
For more information on Family Lives On, please visit www.familyliveson.org.