MORGANTOWN – Leaders of the West Virginia Family Grief Center joined with former Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer on Thursday afternoon to get the word out about its mission and express thanks for a state grant that Fleischauer secured for the center just before she left office.
The Local Economic Development Grant was for $5,544. Fleischauer said the center was not able to do its normal fundraising during the pandemic and she was pleased to be able to secure some money it needed to continue through this year. “This is a wonderful service for the whole state of West Virginia and beyond our borders.” There are fewer than 25 such centers in the whole country.
Center President Craig Falkenstein said it began in 2002 and took two years to receive its nonprofit designation. It moved to its current location inside the Morgantown Church of Christ, near the end of Scott Avenue, in 2007.
It was originally funded by the Benedum Foundation and the Milan Puskar Foundation, he said. Puskar once commented that they operated on a shoestring. “We’re still running on a shoestring,” he said with a smile. The annual budget may run from $10,000 – for such things as food for meetings and insurance for the volunteers – to $20,000 if they have a paid staffer, which they don’t this year.
The center’s mission is to “offer an atmosphere of hope and healing” where people of all ages suffering the loss of loved ones can share their thoughts and feelings in a caring environment without fear of judgment.
During COVID, he said, the support groups met via zoom, and some people still attend in that way.
Linda Moore has served as director and now serves on the board. She explained that they do not offer counseling or therapy, but peer support. The three youth groups are divided by age, determined by how children in each range respond to grief, along with a parents group and a community group, which she runs.
There is no time limit to attend, she said. Some people come for a few weeks, some for years, some come, leave for a time and then return. There are 70 families attending right now.
She read a letter from a girl who was 14 at the time and had lost her mother when she was 10. She attended with her father. She’d had no opportunities to talk with her peers at school for various reason. “However this wall that existed between me and other people was broken at the Family Grief Center. Seeing other people deal with grief, even if they felt differently than I did, helped me feel not so alone. … Contrary to what some people might think, the Grief Center is a cheerful and lively place.”
Donna Sisler is the acting director. She came to the center as a volunteer; then in 2009 after she lost her son, attended as a grieving mother with her grandchildren before returning as director. She met a woman recently who told her that the center “’is one of West Virginia’s hidden gems.’ That just struck me. I thought, ‘Boy, a gem it is.’ But we don’t want to be hidden.” They want more people to know about what they offer. “If they’re grieving, we’re here for them.”
There’s no cost, she said, and attendees can bond over a meal. “Friendships have been made here.” Moore added that three marriages have resulted in her group.
Another volunteer, who wished to just be identified as Sarah, said she lost her husband in 2018. “It was devastating, honestly.” She met with a counselor who referred her to the center. “Honestly, the group probably saved my life. … I really couldn’t function for a while, and the group was wonderful to come to. I could come and laugh, I could come and cry, I could come and be mad, it was just a lot of support that I couldn’t get anywhere else.” And she could help others who were grieving.
Now as a volunteer, “I am so happy that I have been able to give back to what the grief center gave to me.” While people may be reluctant to come at first, “it seems like after the come once, they get it.”
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