Mary Beth Manninger and Kathy Bigelow bring full careers as educators to their IVC work at Ted E Bear Hollow, an Omaha grief center for children and families who have lost a loved one.
“A five-year-old girl had lost her older sister,” describes Mary Beth. “Ted E Bear Hollow is a safe place where she could come and talk about it. In a conversation, the child said, ‘Oh yeah, it’s ok to talk about my sister here’.”
Among other responsibilities, Mary Beth and Kathy facilitate children’s support groups – Mary Beth works with preschoolers and Kathy works with Kindergarten through second graders. One session in the eight-week program is titled “coulda-shoulda-woulda”, and children take this opportunity to express whatever they want to the person who has died. A preschooler in Mary Beth’s group used a toy cell phone to have this conversation:
“Hi Mom. I love you. I miss you. I know you’re ok because there’s no cancer in heaven. Are you having a party up there with Jesus?”
“Our role isn’t as counselors, but to listen to the children”, states Mary Beth. “They do a lot of talking amongst themselves. We just facilitate. Ted E Bear Hollow lets kids know that they’re not alone, that others their age have lost someone special, and that they can get through it all. There’s hope for them.”
Ted E Bear Hollow is one of over 200 independent grief centers in the U.S. Studies have shown that unresolved grief can negatively affect children as they grow, leading to higher incidents of addictions, behavioral problems, school drop-outs, and even suicide. Ninety-six percent of families whose children participate in Ted E Bear Hollow’s support groups can see a noticeable change and significant improvement in their behaviors within just eight sessions of a support group setting.
“In my teaching career, I’ve seen how death can impact children. Uneasiness and strife in families have a huge impact on children. When they’re able to get help in addressing grief, they are able to continue to blossom”, states Kathy Bigelow.
“I worked with one child whose mother was down a lot. After going through the program, she is much more engaged with her children. I can see a difference in the way the mom walks into the building. That affects the whole family”, describes Kathy.
In describing their responsibilities at Ted E Bear Hollow, Mary Beth states, “We kind of do whatever they ask us to do.” In an agency that serves 200 families a year with a staff of 4 full-time and 2 part-time employees, this work has included facilitating support groups, sharing the mission of Ted E Bear Hollow within the Omaha community, leading information sessions, helping with fundraising events, and organizing events. Kathy Bigelow has been an Ignatian Volunteer at Ted E Bear Hollow for three years and says, “It is the best of both worlds. We get the frontline experience working with children and families, plus we help the mission through office and support work.”
Executive Director Rebecca Turner praises the IVC Volunteers and their impact, “I can’t say enough positive things about our Ignatian Volunteers. Two perfect fits, truly!”
Mary Beth has enjoyed her 6 years of service at Ted E Bear Hollow and says, “Ted E Bear Hollow is a great place. Everybody working there cares about kids, understands them. There’s lots of play and laughter.” When asked about her decision to join IVC years ago, Mary Beth states, “I’m just thinking that I was listening to God. He kept putting things in front of me about IVC. Sometimes you’ve got to listen!”
Kathy adds, “IVC is a unique community. We all have varied ministries but a common purpose. We are encouraged and grow together in Ignatian Spirituality as we are around others who share in it. The spiritual support program blends all of this.”