By Sara Tischauser
Two former Seymour high school graduates have decided to create a place for children to go when tragedy strikes.
Vicky Wittman, coaching director and recruitment head for Hope’s House, and Gina Peotter, executive director of Hope’s House, started Hope’s House to help children cope with tragedy.
“Hope’s House is a non-profit organization that provides free bereavement support services, resources and peer-to-peer support groups for children and adolescents ages 4-18 who are grieving the loss of a family member or close friend,” Wittman said. “Hope’s House also provides a self-guided adult support group for the parents and/or guardians of the kid participants.”
“Hope’s House provides a safe, confidential and laid-back environment for kids to get together and work through their grief with others who have gone through something similar,” Peotter added. “Hope’s House works through coping skills, art therapy, culinary therapy, self-discovery, self-regulation, memory projects and more. We offer a space for adults to gather during kids group.”
Wittman and Peotter both had to cope with tragedies in their lives and realized a need to provide a place for children to cope with losses.
“During my freshman year of college, my dad Joe Steffens, tragically passed away from a brain tumor,” Wittman said. “In that moment, my life changed in a profound way that I still cannot fathom a child ever having to endure.”
Peotter also felt it difficult to cope with her own loss.
“I lost both my parents in my 20s and didn’t have anywhere to turn,” Peotter said. “I couldn’t find any grief groups outside of churches when I started researching help. If it was hard for an adult to find help, I wondered what resources were out there for kids.”
Wittman said Hope’s House started as a partnership between her and Peotter who were high school friends. Wittman said they became closer friends after they had both suffered losses in their family and together decided to make something positive come from their tragedies.
“I guess you could say another reason is we both went through some really significant losses in our lives that rocked our worlds,” Peotter said. “We have such big hearts and a calling to have a place for kids and families. We lived through that devastation without resources such as Hope’s House. We just want to help in any way we can to help families work through the pain.”
The two worked together to make Hope’s House become a reality.
“With a lot of hard work and dedication, the dream for Hope’s House became a reality when we incorporated in August 2018,” Wittman said. “Our non-profit has been providing free bereavement services to families throughout the Fox Valley and Greater Green Bay areas ever since. We’re so blessed to have the support from our communities as we grow our resources to help support more children and their families.”
Hope’s House is a place for children and their families who have suffered a loss to find help and support.
“Hope’s House is always welcoming new participants and volunteers,” Wittman said. “Participants range in ages from 4-18 years of age. Guardians, older siblings and parents of child participants are welcome as well.”
Everyone copes with loss in a different way and Wittman said Hope’s House provides a safe environment for children to talk about their loss.
“Providing a place for kids who have lost someone to be around other kids who have also gone through a loss is huge,” Peotter said. “They realize they are not alone, there is someone else their age going through something similar. They feel more comfortable expressing feelings or sharing memories with someone who has gone through a loss.”
Peotter said sometimes an adult may not know how to help a child cope with a loss, but that is where Hope’s House can help. She said that Hope’s House can be a safe place with trained staff who can help a child work through their grief.
Hope’s House may just be one step in helping a child through a loss, and Peotter said sometimes it takes a while after a tragedy before a child may be ready to get help from them.
“Absolutely, a tragedy or death affects each person differently, as well as kids versus adults,” Peotter said. “Right after a death/tragedy we suggest working directly with a therapist or counselor. Hope’s House is always there to be a listening ear and there to provide support. Most of our families come to group nights about six months after a loss. Some a little sooner, and some much later. Everyone’s journey is different and some people are good sharing feelings and talking about the death much sooner than others.”
Hope’s House currently has free peer-to-peer support groups that are held from 6-7:30 p.m. the first and third Mondays of the every month at the De Pere Kress Library at 333 North Broadway, De Pere. A list of the support groups can be found at facebook.com/hopeshousewi or www.hopeshousewi.com.
Wittman said they are working hard to make Hope’s House available even more to those who need help.
“We are working diligently to fundraise enough money to eventually have a permanent location for Hope’s House that will be an accessible resource, open to the public seven days per week,” Wittman said.
While not all children may show signs of having a hard time coping with a loss, Peotter said it is important for children to have a place to feel safe in sharing their feelings.
“Children and adolescents might not show signs of grief,” Peotter said. “They don’t appear sad or angry or talk about the person you lost, but that could be an issue as well. Maybe the child doesn’t have an outlet to express their feelings, and that is what we do at Hope’s House. We give kids ages 4-18 that safe space to express whatever they want.”
Wittman said Hope’s House is funded from private donations and fundraising efforts. She said if anyone is interested in helping they can email Hope’s House at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how to help or look at their Wish List on their website www.hopeshousewi.com. In addition to monetary help, Wittman said they are also looking for more volunteers.
“We are always searching for more volunteers,” Wittman said. “No experience is needed, but a background check is required. We are happy to train the right candidates. If interested, please email us at email@example.com for more information.”
Peotter said hopefully Hope’s House will be able to expand and offer even more services to the public.
“Future plans will be to add on an adult grief group, 1-on-1 grief counseling, an online self-care class, school programs, and workbooks,” Peotter said. “We have big plans and are only going to grow. Hope’s House hopes to be a central grief resource in the community, if we do not have the tools for you, we will connect you with the right ones.”
Starting on July 1 Peotter said they will have a new permanent location for the rest of 2019. This location will be at 231 Riverside Drive, Suite 9, Green Bay, WI 54301.