'Rainbows' offers hope as children cope with loss Support group: Confidential discussion sessions give young people an outlet for their grief.

November 26, 1995|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When parents divorce or when a loved one dies, children often have few places to turn for help. That's where the group Rainbows For All God's Children comes in.

Each Monday, 13 young people who have experienced a traumatic loss meet at the Glen Gary United Methodist Parish in Ellicott City for an evening of confidential discussion intended to help them cope.

"There are a lot of hurting kids who are dealing with things that are adult issues," said Ottilie Grim, a professional counselor and church member who coordinates the local chapter of Rainbows, an international nonprofit group.

Rainbows was formed in 1983 in Chicago by Suzy Perkins Yehl, a divorced mother of three young sons, who realized that there were support groups available for adults but none for her children. The program now is offered in 48 states and 10 foreign countries.

"It's a place where children can express their feelings and not feel like anyone will judge them for it," said a 36-year-old mother whose two sons -- ages 9 and 5 -- are enrolled in the program to help them with their parents' separation.

Living now as a single parent, the West Friendship resident said the program offers valuable counseling at no charge.

The Rainbows program -- whose third 12-week session at Glen Gary wraps up tomorrow -- was first offered at the church a year ago. It is the only Rainbows group in Howard County. It is divided into smaller discussion groups that include students from kindergarten through fifth grade, each led by an adult.

The leaders -- all volunteers -- are required to take a six-hour training course provided by Sister Kate Birch, regional director of 90 Rainbows sites throughout Maryland. If leaders suspect a child needs professional help, they will discuss it with the child's parents.

"The need is there," said Sister Kate. "There are so many disruptive families right across the cultures for all kinds of reasons. The simplicity of the program is so helpful."

Though Rainbows groups often are located in churches, Sister Kate emphasized that the program is not religious. Its curriculum -- available to religious and secular groups alike -- deals with the basic issues of grief.

During a recent Rainbows meeting at Glen Gary United Methodist, Kathi McGaha, a church member, social worker and volunteer group leader, led a discussion among three elementary school students.

As the children told about routine events of the week, Mrs. McGaha steered them to their workbooks, which are designed to encourage the flow of conversation about troubling things.

Discussion topics include what makes a family, coming home to an empty house, feelings when a parent is dating, and how to get attention from a mother or father who may be extremely busy and under stress.

Confidentiality is an important aspect of the program, and children are taught early in the session that what they say stays in the group.

The program earns high marks from parents. One single parent -- Ellicott City resident -- has enrolled her 8-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter in the Glen Gary Rainbows program for three consecutive sessions to help them deal with their parents' divorce.

As a result, the Glen Gary church member says her children are "able to understand their feelings more and not blame me for any of the anger they feel. They gain a lot from knowing other children have experienced similar losses."

Several children also said they were comfortable speaking about their concerns in the atmosphere of the Rainbows group.

"It's just like you can talk more and you don't have everybody knowing," said an 8-year-old girl.

Her 8-year-old classmate agreed: "I like it because we can share with people we don't usually know, because everyone in my school would tell everyone.

"It's nice to have other people [with similar problems] as friends."

Further information about Rainbows For All God's Children, Inc. is available by calling Sister Kate Birch at 377-6907.

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