Playing – and Healing – in Peoria

This was our first time doing the event in Peoria at the Riverfront Museum, and it was a wonderful experience. We loved the location because the families could combine it with exploring the museum, planetarium and IMAX movie theater.

The idea for a Peoria gathering arose because because we try to move the downstate event to be accessible to survivors in central and southern parts of the state. It’s still a long drive for many, Illinois being a long, tall state (390 miles long and 210 miles wide)! We are impressed and humbled that some families drive literally hundreds of miles to share their stories, honor their loved one and connect to support each other.

While we did not get as many registrants this time as we had hoped, those who came were enthusiastic. Four of the families were new to ICFF. One family came who had lost their husband/father within the last few months came down from Chicago. It is unusual for a family so new in their grief to be ready to participate with others, and the Community Resource Guide and counselors were welcome resources for them. Everyone enjoyed the day, and I got special hugs from the new families, two of whom were crying because they felt so touched and glad to know they were not alone.

We plan for these events recognizing that communication is often hard when someone is grieving. A session on communication styles for teens and adults helped family members learn how to be heard, to say what they mean to say, and become better listeners. They also learned about relationship conflict resolution and the differences between passive, aggressive and assertive communication. Other sessions helped survivors use art to maintain memories and to find a way to honor their Veteran by sharing their story. Younger family members, ages 5-15, built forts using pvc piping while picking up some concepts about being both a good leader and a good follower.

One special guest was the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, Major General Richard J. Hayes Jr., who came with his wife to meet some of the families and see how the event is managed. He is interested in evolving how the Guard structures their memorial events and to involve the families more.

After the formal programming, families were free to make connections on their own and to enjoy the Riverfront Museum for the rest of the day. Prime attractions were the “200 Years in the Land of Lincoln” bicentennial celebration, a mythic creatures exhibit with “dragons, unicorns and mermaids” and a gorgeous, peaceful and meditative outdoor sculpture garden with native plantings. Counselors with red lanyards were available for discussion and consultation throughout the day.

As always, SPW interns had worked hard in the days leading up to the event, stamping out buttons of loved ones that from photos that had been mailed in by the families. We scan the photo, make a button, and mail it to the family.

Our main partners for this event were the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, The Adler School of Psychology, Rush Road Home and the Illinois Network of Child Care Resources Referral Agencies, and it was made possible by Grusecki Family Foundation and the Michael Reese Health Trust – and we are very grateful to them. Of course, we want to thank everyone who participated, volunteered or dropped in.

Among our visitors was Julie Vinnedge from Fallen Hero’s Dream Ride. The organization holds events in Missouri for children who have lost a family member serving in our military, creating new fun experiences for them in the wake of the tragedy.

Of course, we took some pictures with the families, as well as with our partners at the Chicago School and Adler School and with Gen. Hayes, and we will have them up for you shortly. Thank you again for a wonderful time in Peoria!

Looking ahead, we have looking at the possibility of partnering with the Library of Congress around their Veterans History Project. They want to expand their work to include stories from Gold Star Families and we are exploring ways to develop some Gold Star-friendly materials. It sounds very exciting, and we will keep you posted!

Our next event will be August 26 at Brookfield Zoo. For next year’s downstate event, we did receive some feedback that we should try Springfield again. We are always interested in hearing from families in central and southern Illinois about potential event locations.

See the photo gallery

Laura Gallagher Watkin
Smart Policy Works

May 4, 2018

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