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Your CFC Donation at Work
By Jane DeMouy
Soft-spoken and polite, the somewhat shy 10-year-old boy sitting with reporters looks like he would be a model fifth-grader at D.C.'s C.W. Raymond Elementary. Today, that's exactly what he is. But only a year ago, after his mother died, he was anything but. Traumatized by the sudden loss of the mother he describes as "a great person," the boy was constantly disrupting his class. "I was getting real mean," he says softly.
The mother he remembers taking him skating, to the park to play and on cook-outs was suddenly gone from his life. Asked what happened to his mother, the boy says simply, "She disappeared."
His mother was taken to the hospital and died. It was left to the grandmother with whom he now lives to tell him that his mother was gone for good. His brother went to live with another grandmother, and his sister stayed with his father. "I miss my sister," he says quietly. "I haven't seen her since April. I wish my brother could come over."
He might still be acting out his fear, anger and sadness but for RAINBOWS, a CFC-eligible program that provides peer support for children suffering great loss. Teacher Margarita Carrere, a warm woman who obviously has a lot of affection for her kids, is the RAINBOWS coordinator at Raymond Elementary. "Kids need to talk about their feelings when they're experiencing trauma," explains Carrere, a veteran who has worked with many children at Raymond in weekly meetings during lunch period. The children might be experiencing the loss of a parent, sibling or friend who has died, become separated from the family or become emotionally absent because of alcoholism or dependence on drugs. The support group meetings are "a healing process," says Carrere.
The volunteers who work with her use booklets, exercises and games provided by RAINBOWS headquarters in Chicago to lead the kids through the healing process. "They talk about guilt, blame, and last, forgiveness. They are angry, frustrated, sad. When they can tell about it, it's like turning on a light in a dark room. The kids love it."
Carrere remembers an early session where she gave out blank paper and asked the kids to draw or write about what was bothering them. "Take out all your rages," she encouraged, telling them to use bad words if they wanted. When they finished, she told them to tear the paper. She was astounded to see them draw and rip through page after page, until she had to run out for more paper. "Kids can be volcanoes ready to explode. This gives them a place to get it out."
The grieving 10-year-old remembers what it was like last year how angry he felt when he heard others talking about his mother. "RAINBOWS made it better," he says. He now knows he's not the only one who feels the way he does. He tells about a friend whose father was living several hundred miles away. His friend's father was shot. The wounded man boarded a plane to get home to his family, but the plane crashed before the boy and his father were reunited.
Another boy whose brother was killed by a gang felt it was his fault. He fell behind in class and was referred to special education classes; he spent recess hitting other kids on the playground. RAINBOWS turned him around, and he's now a good student in a mainstream class.
"It's much easier to help a child when he or she is young," says Carrere. "A kid is like a white piece of paper. You can write everything on it. You can still erase. It's much harder when a person is an adult."
Sometimes the kids want to pass on their new-found skill to the adults in their lives, and Carrere has seen instances where the family has experienced healing as a result.
Since Suzy Yehl Marta founded and developed RAINBOWS to help her three young sons through the grief of a painful divorce in 1983, the program has expanded to serve more than 1,000,000 children in the U.S, Canada and other countries. Materials are not expensive, but budget-strapped schools rarely have even a little money for extras, Carrere reports.
But the payoffs are great. The fifth-grader who "was getting real mean" now loves reading, science and math, which he wants to teach to first graders when he grows up. "I'm okay now," he says with a smile.
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