“If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart … I'll always be with you.” – Winnie the Pooh, United Nations “Ambassador of Friendship”
Perhaps those wise words written by author A.A. Milne inspired the United Nations to name Pooh its "Ambassador of Friendship" in 1998, citing his “consistent message of companionship, loyalty and friendship.”
The U.N. went on to establish the International Day of Friendship in 2011 to encourage friendship among nations, cultures and individuals and, in due course, inspire peace and build bridges among communities. In the United States, we call it National Day of Friendship and celebrate it on the first Sunday of August.
And shouldn’t we celebrate our friends? For many, friendships are the most valuable relationships we have. Friends keep us grounded and help put things in perspective. Friendship also plays an important role in supporting the growing number of bereaved youth, who often feel isolated or frustrated as they process their grief or loss.
The JAG Institute, a nonprofit with a mission to help children and families grieving a death find connection and healing, estimates 1 in 14 U.S. children will experience the death of a parent or sibling before they turn 18. In addition, by the time most youth reach young adulthood, the vast majority are likely to experience major life altering losses due to separation from people, places or things that played a significant role in their life, including death divorce, displacement and deployment.
Boys & Girls Clubs are often the first place families will turn when they need support. Whether it’s a safe place for their children to go after school, a hot meal or help with homework, Clubs serve youth and families in numerous ways and are often on the front lines of grief. To continue providing families with the support they need, Boys & Girls Clubs of America partnered with The New York Life Foundation, the largest corporate funder of childhood bereavement and a provider of expert-endorsed grief resources, to create “Be There,” an initiative to better support grieving youth and connect families to grief assistance resources. Be There provides Club staff with training, resources and strategies to help them understand how grief impacts young people, how to recognize and respond to signs of grief and trauma, and how to provide young people with an environment that’s conducive to helping them process their grief and build resilience through strong, supportive relationships.
Much like loveable friend to all, Winnie the Pooh, Boys & Girls Club youth are building and demonstrating the skills needed to form solid, lasting friendships, which is an instrumental component in developing resilience to cope with grief, loss and traumatic events.
As adults and caregivers, it is our responsibility to provide children with the opportunity to build skills such as empathy, compassion, and perseverance to increase their ability to cope with loss and support one another during times of hardship. Afterschool programs are one of the best places to reinforce these skills.
to check out training and resources to support a young person in your life who is experiencing grief, loss or hardship.
- Jennifer Bateman is National Vice President of Youth Development of Boys & Girls Clubs of America.