Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Barbara Peckett brings 'New Hope' and tikkun olam to grieving kids


New Hope for Kids Staff and volunteers (l-r), Gloria Capozzi, Marla Sullivan, Barbara Peckett, Rosie Wilder and Jamilette Rivera.

This story is the first in a series about members of the Jewish community who have stepped up on behalf of Central Florida's New Hope for Kids, a nonprofit with the purpose of bringing hope, healing and happiness to children and families of all backgrounds suffering from grief, loss or life-threatening illnesses. New Hope for Kids achieves this through two programs, the Center for Grieving Children and Wishes for Kids. For more information visit http://www.newhopeforkids.org.

People often ask retired radio executive/entrepreneur Barbara Peckett if her role as a grief facilitator at New Hope for Kids (NHFK) is a depressing one. For the past year Peckett has served as a volunteer grief facilitator with the Maitland nonprofit, spending one night every other week helping young children work their way through the death of a loved one. Peckett doesn't find the work sad or depressing. She explains, "I find it inspiring and heartwarming to help children transition from this really difficult place in their lives back to being kids once again."

Peckett was raised in South Florida in a Jewish household with a strong commitment to tikkun olam or "healing the world." She learned the value of giving back to the community as a member of Temple Judea in Coral Gables and in leadership programs with her temple youth group and SEFTY (Southeastern Federation of Temple Youth).

"Helping kids heal during a tumultuous time is my way of giving back," she said.  Her husband, Chet, and adult children, Haley and Alison, are all supporters of NHFK. "My family knows that at birthdays and holidays I'd prefer a donation to New Hope for Kids instead of a store bought gift," she shared.

The Zellwood resident has been a member of Orlando's Congregation of Reform Judaism (CRJ) for the past 29 years and a member of the Social Action Committee. Most recently, Peckett brought Rabbi Steven Engel on to New Hope's board of directors. She explained that schools and the clergy are on the front lines when a family member dies. "They are New Hopes' most frequent source of referral. Rabbi Engel has recommended congregants to us and has also served as liaison to the greater religious community through his role on the board of the Interfaith Council," she stated.

Peckett first became involved with NHFK in the late '90s when it was called Children's Wish. At that time, she was working in radio and a client, John Mantione of Fields BMW, encouraged her involvement. Over time the organization merged into the current New Hope for Kids, with the purpose of bringing hope, healing and happiness to children and families suffering from grief, loss or life-threatening illnesses. New Hope for Kids achieves this through two programs: the Center for Grieving Children and Wishes for Kids. For the past eight years, Peckett has served on the board of directors and this year is filling the role of board chairwoman.  

In 2014, Peckett took on the role of grief facilitator in order to understand New Hope's mission of "healing grieving hearts" firsthand. NHFK volunteer/marketing manager Gloria Capozzi explained, "Extensively trained grief facilitators are the heart of our grief program. They are trained to facilitate groups, make families feel at home, and generally support the work of the program."

During training, the grief program director, Tamari Miller, and other professionals guided Peckett and other grief facilitators through the practice of asking open ended questions and "reflective listening" which teaches facilitators to be active and empathetic listeners. "The surviving caregiver has many challenges when a loved one dies and in his/her own way has to deal with all the ancillary issues the death brings. Sometimes it's a grandparent who has just been thrust into a new role as parent. Or a mom who is trying to figure out how she will pay the mortgage. As grief facilitators, we are there to let the kids know that someone is really listening to what they have to say and are interested in how they feel," said Peckett.

Twice a month on Wednesdays, Peckett can be found at the New Hope Center on Maitland Ave., across from the JCC, working with a group of kids between the ages of 3 and 12. Additionally, there are separate groups for teens aged 13-18, and special circumstances (deaths from homicide or suicide.) Concurrently a trained counselor meets with the adult caregiver support group.

The evening starts out with the kids and grief facilitators sitting on brightly colored pillows in a circle. The "talking stick" is passed around with each person stating their name, age and who died. A list of eight rules are then reviewed by the group; these are put in place to provide a safe and comfortable environment for children while they work through their grief. Even though some aren't old enough to pronounce the word "confidentiality," they know that it means what's said in this room goes no further. 

After introductions, there is a planned grief activity. Commonplace items like beach balls become therapeutic tools that help kids express their feelings. Peckett points out an NHFK beach ball located on a shelf. This is no ordinary beach ball, but a child's toy transformed into a conversation starter. Questions etched in black marker run up and down the sides of the ball. When a child catches the ball, he or she answers the question where their finger lands. A question might be: "Did you attend the funeral?" or "What was your first day back at school like (after the death)?"  

After the activity, the children can choose to go to one or more rooms: a game room, an arts and crafts room, a play room with puppet show/dress up and other dramatic play, a sand room, a painting room and the Hurricane Room, which is a crowd favorite. Peckett explained "The Hurricane Room is a perfect place for those feeling some anger or frustration that day. These are all part of the grieving process. The floor and walls are covered with gym mats, and there's a punching bag in the middle. Nerf balls/soft projectiles are plentiful. It's a safe and appropriate place to let loose." 

The groups reconvene in their original room and share what play activity they chose and how it helped them with their grief. "When someone close dies, all of a sudden that child or teen becomes a member of a club that no one really wants to join. The kids understand, empathize and help each other through this process. Most of the comfort comes from knowing that someone else is going through the same thing," Peckett stated.

New Hope's services are offered at no cost to its participating families, and is funded solely through charitable donations and fundraisers. Demand for New Hope's services exceeds its current home, and a new center has been purchased less than a mile away on 17-92, also in Maitland. Peckett revealed that the new facility will serve more families and eliminate the waiting list for those in need. The new facility will also allow essential and valuable programs to be added to the New Hope curriculum such as individual counseling, pre-death support, physical activities, teen projects, etc. Additionally, the new building will make it easier for members of the same family to attend on the same night. Currently, some families make the drive to Maitland on two different nights due to lack of space in the existing home on Maitland Avenue.

Peckett shared, "Our small unassuming house in Maitland has been our home for many years; however serving the growing population of Central Florida has created the need for a larger facility. We just kicked off our Capital Campaign at the end of 2014 and will continue to provide services to children and families at 900 North Maitland Avenue in Maitland, until we are able to move into our new home." 

The Pecketts are donating a memorial garden at the new facility. They invite all members of the Central Florida community to help build New Hope's future. She concluded, "There are a myriad of ways to help: you can volunteer, refer a family, donate to the Capital Campaign, become a grief facilitator just to name a few. You can learn more on their website at www.newhopeforkids.org.


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