SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Union Catholic students recently participated in the Imagine #Here4U Grief Education Program. UC has partnered with Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss in Mountainside on this program in order to normalize grief and educate students about how to provide positive support for those who are coping with loss.

A #Here4U companion training session was held earlier this month to prepare UC students to serve as student companions and to share their stories of grief with the UC student body. The Union Catholic student companions who serve as educators are Rebecca Penevolpe, Yvonne Agyapong, Halle Martin, Tenajah Eldridge, Jonathan Choi, Julienne Emmons, Yilin Chai, Dylan France, Samantha Dreher, Christopher Robateau, Jr., Michael Robateau, Aiyana Williams, Sean Machado, Adrienne Caceda, Sarah Ohnmeiss, Kai Chiang, Connie Palmer, and Matt Stotz.

Connie Palmer, the Clinical Training Director at Imagine, began the thought-provoking presentations by holding out a box full of dominoes and dumping them out onto the tile floor. The shocking sound of the dominoes scattering across the room immediately gained the attention of all in attendance. Mrs. Palmer used this demonstration to explain that sometimes in life the "dominoes fall" and our lives can change.

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Mrs. Palmer and the students then engaged in a group discussion on the many forms of grief, including death, physical/mental illness, divorce, adoption, and sports injuries. They went on to discuss how to use strategies to cope with grief, how to talk to someone who is grieving, and how to manage the grieving process. Throughout the presentation, UC's student companions courageously shared their personal stories of grief and resilience and offered great advice to their peers.

Students were given five "Power Tools" to be used when coping with grief:

1. Use power statements and ask power questions (e.g. My name is _____ and I have power)
2. Develop self-compassion and empathy for others
3. Ask for help/Receive help/Help others/Help yourself
4. Say yes to the good/Say no to the bad
5. Change what you have power over/Admit what you don't have power over

Upon exiting the presentation, students each picked up one of the dominoes and took it with them to serve as a symbol of the power they have over their lives and their grief.

Mrs. Palmer discussed the work of Imagine and the impact its grief education programs have on students.

"We have an overall mission that wherever a grieving child turns there is someone there to support them," said Mrs. Palmer. "We go into schools because kids who are going through loss have friends who don't know how to support them. It turns out that it's something you can learn how to do and this program shows you how to do that. The whole point of this program is that the students are the ones who have the power to stand up and tell everyone their story, and it empowers the students who are listening to share their feelings of grief and understand that they aren't alone."

Mrs. Jennifer Dixon, the Director of School Counseling at Union Catholic, praised UC Principal Sister Percylee Hart for supporting the #Here4U program and thanked the UC student companions for sharing their stories.

"I am continuously grateful to Sister Percylee for supporting the Imagine #Here4U initiative," said Mrs. Dixon. "I am in awe of the companions and their ability to be vulnerable by speaking so candidly in front of their peers in hopes of helping others. It is truly inspiring and is a testament to the supportive community here at UC. I have witnessed first-hand the life changing impact this program has had on the students and look forward to the continued growth of the program. Currently approximately 20 students serve as companions through the program, and each year new students join the returning companions which has made the program sustainable and has helped it flourish."