Believing that no child should have to walk the painful journey of grief alone

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October 19, 2019 By Amy Morgan

Tragedy strikes when least expected. A car accident, a sudden illness, suicide — even a natural disaster or active shooter. Lives are changed forever for families who have lost a loved one. How do they pick up the pieces and go on?

Clients gather for a training session in the living room of the Center.
Clients gather for a training session in the living room of the Center.

The Children’s Bereavement Center is a nonprofit organization founded in 1997 by Martha Atkins, Ph.D., to help children ages three to 24 and their caregivers “understand the depth of their grief, stabilize and preserve family relationships and develop healthy coping skills after the death of a loved one.” 

Here, you’ll find a safety net for children recovering from loss. 

Dr. Atkins’ own personal journey with loss led her to develop this program. She began serving families with the support of Colonial Hills United Methodist Church while pursuing post graduate schooling. The Center eventually became today’s thriving organization. In just the first six months of 2019, the Center saw 1,766 children and their caregivers, according to Franchesca Velten, the Center’s Marketing and Development Manager.

Children at the Center visit with a pet from Therapy Animals San Antonio to help overcome their grief.
Children at the Center visit with a pet from
Therapy Animals San Antonio to help overcome
their grief.

Services are available seven days a week. Eight licensed professional counselors, with specialty training in grief and trauma, oversee dozens of interns and volunteers to provide services. Programs include individual grief counseling, peer support groups, school-based groups and grief camps.  Peer support groups match those with similar loss experiences to help children know that others struggle with similar feelings. These no-cost programs meet twice a month and begin with a community meal, prepared and served by volunteer "Potluck Partners."

The Center, located in Olmos Park, provides a safe, nurturing environment conducive to healing in a beautiful home-like setting. The facility has space for a variety of fine art therapy modalities like dance, drama, and music, as well as visual arts to help participants physically process their loss. Notable is the glass art suite, where children melt shattered glass together into a new object to tangibly illustrate the concept of making something beautiful out of brokenness.

Twice a year, the Children’s Bereavement Center hosts Camp Heroes for school age children. They focus on the weeks of Thanksgiving and spring break to provide maximum support to families. The newly single parent may need to be working during these school breaks, Franchesca points out, so Camp Heroes serves tangible as well as emotional needs.  

As a mom, I see such value in their mission. I know how important it is to provide a safe space for kids, especially while trying to heal and grieve. I ‘m grateful that the Children’s Bereavement Center can provide that. They make each child’s journey just a little bit easier to walk because they walk with them, in understanding and compassion.”          Elisia Carr, Marketing Coordinator, DOCUmation.Elisia Carr


“Camp Heroes gives everybody that extra support and sets the tone for the holidays,” says Franchesca. During the summer, the Center takes more than 80 grieving children ages six through seventeen to Hermann Sons Life Camp in Comfort, Texas. 

A girl chooses an item from the Sand Tray Suite to express her feelings.
A girl chooses an item from the Sand Tray Suite to
express her feelings.

Pastors and other colleagues can attend training events to develop counseling skills in the area of child trauma. The Grief Education Institute meets quarterly and offers CEUs to applicable professionals. Those interested can find information about upcoming events on the Center’s website.  

New groups have been developed as needs have emerged. Previously they didn’t provide adult support groups, but, Franchesca says, “we saw parents sitting outside talking while they waited for their children and realized they needed support as well.” Another new group is forming: grandparents raising grandchildren. 

As the numbers of teens committing suicide continues to rise, support groups for their close friends and family members have been created as well.

“We’re ultimately about ensuring relationships are strong and healthy so families feel they can move on together,” Franchesca says. 

She remembers a teen who was extremely emotionally guarded. “He always had his headphones on,” she says, “and we weren’t sure if he was even listening.  He progressed to just one earbud, then throwing them over his shoulder.  It was great to see him opening up and laughing at the end of the semester,” she says. “Sometimes moving forward without carrying the baggage of trauma is a slow process.”  

"The loss of a loved one is always hard. Imagine being a kid going through a loss like that. They’re so fragile. We need to provide services that help kids not only cope with the loss, but that also provide them with tools to help deal with their emotions and help them to continue moving forward in a healthy way. The Children’s Bereavement Center supports a huge need in our community."Hunter Woolfolk

Hunter Woolfolk, Co-President DOCUmation    

Emma Wood is an example of one for whom the Children’s Bereavement Center made all the difference. Now a sophomore in college, Emma lost her father to leukemia at the age of 10. After participating in the program, she volunteered at the Hermann Sons grief camp as well as took part in healing circles at the Center. 

“In my role as a young adult, I can really connect with the younger kids,” she says.  “It was easier for them to come talk to me and open up than it might be with an adult. It was really cool to see them heal through that.”  

Emma’s mother, Leslie, a licensed clinical social professional, also worked at the Center. Emma says her mother “finds it really important we are involved there [at the Children’s Bereavement Center] because it is the place that helped us when we lost our dad.”  


Children's Bereavement Center

205 W. Olmos Drive, San Antonio, TX 78212
(210) 736-HUGS or (210) 736-4847

Be A Light.

Follow. Learn about events on social media. Invite. Ask your church leadership if they’d like to develop counseling skills in the area of child trauma; the Bereavement Center can train them. Pray. Ask God to help every child find the help they need. Give. Send a monetary donation or teddy bear through Amazon Smile. Or, sign up up to be a Potluck Partner. 

Written by

Amy Morgan

Amy Morgan has written and edited for The Beacon for the past 9 years.


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