The VNA of Northwest Indiana’s VNA Phoenix Center sits on the north side of Valparaiso, nestled behind the VNA Hospice Center. The two buildings are joined by a healing garden and a shared purpose: to fill a need in the community. June 23rd was the Center’s first open house since Ann O'Heir, VNA President and CEO took over the reins in October of 2015.
The Phoenix Center is for children and young adults who have lost someone in their lives and need help grieving. One out of every twenty children loses a parent before 15 years old. Each of them feels like they are alone but they do not have to be. Meetings are twice a month and divided by age group. Part of the time is spent discussing grieving tactics as a group. The rest of it is just kids hanging out with peers who know what they are going through.
“I think it’s a great program,” said VNA Phoenix Center Supervisor Gretchen Seidler Gibbs. “I can’t tell you why it works, but it works. It’s a special place. You can feel it when you walk in.” Maybe that is because of the dedication of the staff. Other than the program’s director, everyone is volunteering their time to a cause they believe in. Volunteer Facilitator Penny Yelkovac said, “It helps those of us who are helping others deal with the things in our own lives. Sometimes the people who need to come here let us know, and sometimes not. We are always available for them.”
The program is free for participants. The VNA Phoenix Center is funded by support from the community and revenue through other VNA services. It is important for the community to support the VNA, so they can, in turn, give back to the community. That is why Ann O’Heir, the new President and CEO of the VNA of Northwest Indiana, insisted that her introduction to the community be held as an open house to the VNA Phoenix Center. “It’s important for them to understand who are are as a group and who I am as a person, and where the organization is going. We’ve had a significant amount of growth and plan to continue,” said O’Heir.
The VNA Phoenix Center boasts several unique areas, such as the Healing Garden, where kids can learn about and understand the life cycle and where families come together for a touching closing ceremony at the end of the school year. In the middle of the garden swings a collaborative wind chime, each piece honoring a lost loved one. The volcano room has carpeted walls and a punching bag and offers kids the opportunity to vent frustration, anger, and even fear. The teen room is named so for its teen age geared entertainment.
“It makes me feel very good,” said Joyce Alexa, a retired VNA nurse who volunteers for many of the VNA’s other projects. She has been a part of the organization for more than 40 years. “It’s rewarding to see projects like this in the community, meeting the needs of kids. It gives them a place to heal.”
The next closest bereavement centers for children are in Goshen and Indianapolis. The VNA Phoenix Center services Porter, Lake, Starke, LaPorte, and Jasper counties. It is an irreplaceable part of our community.