Hospice Savannah Program for Children Affected by Gun Violence Earns National Recognition from Mutual of America
Friday, April 12th, 2019
Hospice Savannah’s Full Circle Grief and Loss bereavement counselors, volunteers and community partners were recognized by Mutual of America for their “We the Living” program during a special hometown luncheon and award presentation at the Perry Lane Ballroom in Savannah on April 5. The program was named a Merit Finalist Award recipient in the Mutual of America 2018 Community Partnership Award competition, which received entries from organizations nationwide. The prestigious selection committee included Dudley H. Hafner, Former CEO, America Heart Association and Frances R. Hasselbein, President & CEO of The Frances Hasselbein Leadership Forum.
In 2016, when Savannah's homicide rate spiked due to gang-related violence, Hospice Savannah – which provides hospice and palliative care and bereavement services to families in Chatham, Bryan, Effingham and Liberty counties – took the lead in creating “We the Living”, a children's grief and violence support network that addresses the unique needs of children who have lost a loved one to violence.
Dr. Kathleen Benton, Hospice Savannah’s President & CEO, received a check for $25,000 from Thomas Gilliam, Chairman & CEO, and Ted Herman, Vice Chair, of the Mutual of America Foundation. Community partners recognized at the luncheon included Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools, the Chatham County Victim Witness Assistance Program and the Savannah Metropolitan Police, who provide essential help in identifying youth impacted by violence, advocate on behalf of grief counseling, and encourage parents and caretakers to take steps toward healing for their children.
Commemorative coins were awarded to Jamey Espina, Hospice Savannah’s VP of Development & Community Services for his advocacy and leadership of the program; Lila Black, School Counselor, Haven Elementary for her guidance in reaching her students; Holland Morgan, former Full Circle bereavement coordinator for his compassionate and thoughtful building of partnerships; Kenan Hall, Program Coordinator, Human Services Dept., City of Savannah for his collaboration during a summer program for at risk youth; Kathy Hodges, retired Savannah Country Day School counselor for her clinical leadership and participation; and Jennifer Messner, Director of Community Investments, United Way of the Coastal Empire, for her writing of the initial “We the Living” grant application while employed by the Hospice Savannah Foundation.
“We the Living” support groups are led by master's-level counselors trained in childhood trauma. Their work is supported by a music therapist, who teaches children how music can be an effective tool for channeling emotions. "Together, our partnership is helping to ensure our community is equipped to address trauma related grief," said Jamey Espina, VP, Hospice Savannah. "To-date, we have trained nearly 100 staff members, school counselors, social workers and volunteers to provide support. Our program outcomes are significant, measurable and meaningful, with participants demonstrating improvement in key areas such as feeling supported, decreased fear and a reduction in loneliness."