Despite only being three years old, General McLane senior Amelia Swenski has a clear recollection about certain events from October 26, 2003.
The day before, they saw a Wooly Bear crossing the road. That day, she spent the afternoon on the swing with her father before saying goodbye when he left for work.
Late that night, however, her father passed away one block away from home in a fatal car accident on his way back from work.
“It was a powerful period in my life,” said Amelia, who vividly remembers the police showing up at their house the next morning.
Since then, Amelia and her family have always had an open conversation about death. Now, Amelia carries that conversation into the classrooms as president of General McLane’s Caring Club.
Through the club’s initiatives, Amelia and hundreds of General McLane students stood in unity on Children’s Grief Awareness Day, a day to remember and support those who have lost a close family member.
“I just want those who grieve to know that they’re not alone,” says Amelia. “Everything that is done for the day ends up creating a very positive atmosphere of support from the community, both within the school and in our surrounding area. That’s a great feeling and a healing experience.”
Children’s Grief Awareness Day was created in 2008 by the Highmark Caring Place, a Center for Grieving Children, Adolescents and Their Families that offers a safe place for grieving children and families to come together. The Caring Place offers these services at no charge to grieving families from throughout the community to make sure these children receive the support they need.
Throughout the week, General McLane students participated in a variety of activities to show unity and support. Members of the high school Caring Club ran a bake sale and a basket raffle to raise money for The Caring Place, provided students with an opportunity to write the names of loved ones for a memory wall and decorated the building with blue butterflies, the symbol most associated with this day.
Amelia with the help of classmates Allie Shade, Emma Hunter, Phoebe Will, McKenah Bryson, Hannah McDermott, Jenna Brock, Anna Shreve, Haley Carter and Kendra Trezona, created a display of butterflies in the main lobby windows. Amelia created the memory wall, which included a paper tree with the words “we continue to grow and they continue to watch over us” placed next to it, specifically to be in memory of all of the lost parents and siblings of high school students and staff. Also, Mrs. Brenda Hertel, with the help of Mr. Jeremy Reed, Officer Jose Montes, Enrique Cornejo and Brayden Shaw, decorated the cafeteria windows with about 700 blue butterflies. The space served as an additional memory wall for the students.
“I want to help the people who have family members who have passed more recently to realize that they will always miss that person, but they will continue to live and do great things,” says Amelia.
Around twenty students and staff who have lost a sibling or parent gathered in the morning. They had a small ceremony where they to wrote the names of their passed loved ones on paper leaves to be hung on the tree. Students wore blue to show awareness of grieving children.
“I am lucky that I have a very supportive family, my grandparents have been complete bonus parents for me and I am grateful for that,” says Amelia. “But the hardest part is him being unable to see me when I accomplish milestones, those are times where I wish he was there. I constantly think of stuff like that in the future.”
Conversations like Amelia’s allow the entire community to know the meaning of Children’s Grief Awareness Day.
The Caring Club consists of 15 students who wish to make a positive impact at General McLane. Each month, they host events to create a caring atmosphere.
General McLane High School and Parker Middle School began offering grief support group meetings in September of 2014 as part of a regional program sponsored by the Highmark Caring Place, which has offered grief support for children at its Erie facility since opening in 2001. Students and counselors meet every Thursday for about an hour.
To learn more about General McLane School District, visit generalmclane.org.