Young man’s donation starts unique North Ottawa bereavement program

Posted at 6:44 PM, Jan 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-06 18:44:34-05

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. – No matter how old or young you are, dealing with loss or change can be difficult.

12-year-old Steven Reenders of Grand Haven, unfortunately, had to find that out the hard way when his grandfather lost his battle with cancer last year. Steven and his family were in despair, but in that time of grief, a thought occurred to Steven: there were no local resources for kids dealing with loss.

"There’s a lot of people that die from cancer, most have kids,” said Steven. “Really I just want to help people that need helping."

The program Steven would go on to found – one that will serve to help thousands of kids deal with grief before, during and after times of crisis – all started with an unrelated school project. The project challenged Steven and his school mates to start a small business, devising a sustainable model, mission statement, and sales plan for a grade. Steven sold rock candy, and a lot of it. When all was said and done, Steven had sold about 60 pounds of homemade rock candy, amassing a sales total of over $250.

Wanting to give back to the hospice program that had helped his grandfather, Steven donated the money to the North Ottawa Health System, who graciously accepted and gave him an option. Steven could donate the funds to the already existing hospice care, or use it as seed money for a new program geared towards kids, a concept Steven thought up all on his own.

His donation helped found the Youth Emotional Wellness Program, aimed at helping children cope with change and loss. North Ottawa Health has already partnered with established bereavement organization Gilda’s House and plans to partner with local schools to provide counseling services there as well.

In addition to Steven’s original contribution, the program has raised close to $9,100. It’s in a pilot phase right now, but the system plans to launch it full-scale by September of 2016. As for Steven, he’s already buying into the message the program sends, all the while keeping sight of why he did it in the first place.

"It’s going to happen eventually. You can’t stop it it's just the way of life,” Steven said. “I know right now [my grandfather’s] probably looking over me saying, ‘good job.’”