SPARTA, NJ — The Hero Club at the Joseph T. Quinlan Bereavement Center is one step closer to reality having received a donation from the Sparta Kiwanis. John Quinlan, Director of the Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice foundation, presented the program to the club at their meeting at Homers restaurant. 

Kiwanis member Frank Cannistra introduced Quinlan and Diane Sebzda, Director of Bereavement, explaining the concept. The $3000 check from the Sparta Kiwanis and New Jersey District Foundation of Kiwanis International was the fourth donation of a possible 12 slots to create an endowment to fund scholarships for children in need.

“A one time donation will help a child forever,” Quinlan said. According to Quinlan, the endowment would be conservatively managed, with five percent or $1500 used annually to provide scholarships.

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“This past spring of the 12 children enrolled in the program, eight were scholarship,” Sebzda said. The cost for a child to attend the four week art and play based program is $150. They currently run two sessions but hope to add a third during the summer according to Sebzda.

The program is open to any child from any place, whether or not their loved one was in the Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice Quinlan said. They have treated children from Sussex, Warren and Pike counties and other areas including from as far away as Manhattan he said.

Sebzda and Quinlan the Children’s Art Bereavement Program not only helps the child but the parents as well.

“While the children are being taken care of the parents are in another room learning how to take care of the children,” Quinlan said.

The children are given craft or projects to work on while they talk and the modules change, “so they don’t even realize they are being helped,” Sebzda said. She showed a couple of examples of the projects the children have created and shared the stories of the children who created them.

A framed photo of a balloon that had been decorated with a black marker had the words, “I feel beaten up by grief” printed at the bottom. The face created on the balloon had marks depicting a face that was beaten up.

Sebzda show a second photo with a number of “emotion masks.” The children are given “white masks to decorate with how they felt when they found out about the loss and then a second one with how they look in class.”  

Pointing out a mask completely decorated with a mane of red feathers, Sebzda said it had been created by a nine year old who cared for his grandma by getting her milk and cookies every day after school. The grandmother was dying and in her last hours the boy was sent in the middle of the night to a friend’s house by parents looking to do the best they could for the boy.

The boy felt he should have been there when she needed him the most. The red feathers depicted the anger he felt.

The advice given to the parents touches on many topics such as whether or not to bring a child to a viewing according to Sebzda. The youngest child she has treated was one. 

“There is a saying, if you’re old enough to love you’re old enough to grieve,” Quinlan said. “Unresolved grief can be damaging to children.”

In the bereavement program they seek to give children an outlet to express feelings and thoughts “they don’t even have words for.”

Sebzda said they are told they can do “anything that doesn’t hurt themselves or others,” including crying or running, jumping and even playing music.

While the Hero Club is looking for $3000 donations, other individual donations are welcome, Quinlan said. “They can restrict the donation to ensure it goes to a specific program such as the Children’s Art Bereavement Program.”

They would also accept donations of art supplies to supplement the program, Sebzda said.

The Children’s Art Bereavement Program runs two hours, once a week for four weeks. 

“It will help them deal with future losses as well,” Quinlan said. “Each $3000 donation will help one child a year forever.”

Quinlan said they are seeking individuals or organizations who support children to fund the endowment. He would like to have the endowment fully funded by the end of this year.

“Children are an innocent population who shouldn’t have to experience grief,” Quinlan said.

Quinlan said they are seeking individuals or organizations who support children to fund the endowment. He would like to have the endowment fully funded by the end of this year.

“Children are an innocent population who shouldn’t have to experience grief,” Quinlan said.

Sparta Kiwanis President Ben Caruso said the endowment donation is in keeping with the Kiwanis mission of "serve the children of the world."