Rainbow Kidz program showcased at national symposium
BY HALEY JONES
Rainbow Kidz Director Leigh Ann Darty had the opportunity to discuss the children’s local children’s grief-support program last week at the National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC) annual symposium in Richmond, Va.
Darty’s presentation, “Connecting Rainbows; Successful Implementation of School Grief Groups,” focused on how the Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County promotes mental, emotional and grieving health within the community.
About 500 professionals and volunteers attended three-day symposium.
At age 19, Darty experienced the loss of her 17-year-old brother. After beginning work at Gordon Hospice House in 2000, and through the support of the Hospice team and Board of Directors, Darty developed the Rainbow Kidz Program in 2005. The program ensures that children and teenagers receive the help they need after losing a loved one.
“It’s been a dream to share my story,” Darty said. “People always hear me say, ‘It’s an honor to do this work,’ but it really is. We love that we can help these children heal and connect.”
Drawing from her experiences, Darty discussed the program’s history, what they have learned so far, and future plans.
Currently, there are 434 students in 34 schools enrolled in the program. Of those children participating, 95 percent showed an increase in attendance, grades or behavior.
“We are promoting how no child should grieve alone in Iredell County and how it’s been successful,” Darty said. “It’s about making that connection and they are making a connection with one another.”
Other bereavement professionals in attendance at the NAGC include TedX Talks speaker Carly Wothlar-Runestead; singer/songwriter Beth Chapman, and the son of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who developed the theory for the five stages of grief. Nationally-acclaimed bereavement groups present at the symposium included the Dougy Center and Comfort Zone Camp.
“We were there with ‘gurus’ of child bereavement,” Darty said.
Darty and Luttman used their time at the symposium to learn more.
“Shelly and I went and were blown away by the ideas that would help take our programs to the next level,” Darty said. “We’re still learning.”
It’s been a week since the symposium and Darty has already received emails from attendees asking for tips and tools to start their own child bereavement programs. A PhD Psychology student from Penn State has also connected with Darty, hoping to use Rainbow Kidz as part of her internship and research for her degree, with a possible publication collaboration.