Tu Nidito Teens Create a Holiday Support Guide

Tu Nidito Teens Create a Holiday Support Guide

Most people think of the holiday as a time of joy, surrounded with the love of family and the warmth of the season. For others the holidays bring sadness as they are flooded with memories of past holidays. At Tu Nidito, we know for many of our kids the sadness is profound. During the month of December our groups focus on how to navigate the holidays while you are grieving the death of a special person. We encourage authentic feelings and acknowledge and validate every individual and their feelings, whatever they are: joy, sadness, anger and regret. 

Tu Nidito teens helped each other by sharing how they would support someone who was having a hard time during the holidays. Their answers are wise, relevant and so helpful.

What is a good way to bring a smile to someone’s face when they are having a really hard time and missing their special person during the holidays?

Give them necessary space.

“Surprise them with something they like, hot chocolate for example.”

“Ask them what they would like to do.”

“Surprise them with their favorite food.

“Talk to them and kind of distract them with things they want.”

“Surround yourself with people you know will make you happy and you can start new traditions with them instead of focusing on the old ones.”

“Listen to Music.”

If you could create a holiday comfort kit for someone your age who is grieving, what items would you include?

“Stress ball or fidget spinner.”

Music and headphones. Yummy holiday food!”

“A notepad, something that reminded me of them and music they would listen to.

Something to hug.

“Friends, food, movies, a comfy place and board games.”

“A phone, AirPods and an art kit.”

What can you do if you feel overwhelmed and need a break?

“Go outside. Call someone comforting. Find a dog!

Spend time alone. Binge a comfort show or movie.”

“Stay in my room alone, use the comfort kit and hangout with animals.

“Go to an empty room.”

Breathe, calm down. Thinking helps me not to be irrational.”

“Listen to music and go to my room and take deep breaths. Go to the lake park.”

What are some kind or helpful things to say to someone like you who is grieving the death of a special person?

I am here for you. I understand. Can I do anything to help?”

“Ask them: ‘what was their name?’ ‘What can I do to make you feel better?’”

“That they are not alone.”

“I’m sorry your mom died, I hope you’ll feel better. I am here for you.

December Newsletter

November News

The Wisdom of Sophia Dunne

Volunteer Spotlight

The Wisdom of Sophia Dunne

Sophia Dunne, a Tu Nidito intern and senior at the University of Arizona, never thought she would work with grieving children. She was studying with her friend Jasmine, an avid Tu Nidito volunteer and advocate, when she overheard Jasmine’s presentation via Zoom to a group of college students. Jasmine told the story of a little boy who lives two hours away from Tu Nidito and “begs” his parents to bring him to a support group twice a month. Sophia thought to herself this place must be pretty special if a child begs to travel 4 hours roundtrip to spend 90 minutes in a support group.

In her studies in public health and political science, Sophia has grown passionate about systemic health disparities and is focused on a career path to address global health inequities. Perhaps this is why the story of the little boy, who travels two hours to a support group, sparked her curiosity. She had a true “AHA” moment during her studies when she realized how different the world looks depending on where you live and your access to the resources others might take for granted. Having grown up with access, she became focused on figuring out how to change the systems that preclude it.

During my conversation with her I felt her commitment to finding solutions and dedicating her life to this work. And she is using the skills and knowledge she gained at Tu Nidito as a springboard. She shared that the volunteer training changed her world view. She uncovered something about herself that so many of us feel, saying, “How can I help them – how will they trust me? I don’t have the same experiences.” Sophia thought she had to fix people and wondered how she could if she didn’t share their life experiences.

In her words, “The training is intentional, as is the work of Tu Nidito. There is a “WHY” that is uncovered for everything we do and say.” At Tu Nidito, we practice what we preach, we uphold our values of caring, responding and making a difference. She shared the simplicity of passing the talking stick in a support group and how it gives participants the time and space needed to reflect and speak or pass the stick to another. We honor the silence. She understands this work is about listening and deeply hearing what is being shared.

Attending her first group as a trained volunteer sent her into a bit of a tailspin. It is our practice to go through the group roster naming who will be attending and their loved one’s cause of death. She panicked, thinking, “How am I supposed to help these kids? I can’t fix them.” At that moment, the training came full-circle. She was not present to fix anyone. The kids were doing the heavy lifting, they will fix themselves, they know best. Sophia knew her place was to provide resources and to listen. She shared, “Grief is individual, each person’s pain and conflict is so different.”

She goes on to say, “I am continuously blown away by these kids and their level of emotional intelligence.  They can verbalize “Today I Feel…”. Their strength and resilience are not a privilege yet a tool they have earned from their experiences. Sophia shared, “We have to honor their journey to resiliency, which is through their experiences of death. They put in so much work and vulnerability to gain their strength and resilience, so the mere compliment of you are “so strong” does not speak to the depth of their work”.

Tu Nidito has taught Sophia that she does not need to be a fixer but rather a listener and it also revitalized her commitment to work with kids. “I love kids! They are refreshing. The way they see their world is authentic.” She shared this with a smile on her face and wonder in her eyes.

Sophia will graduate in May and join the Peace Corps. She wants to experience different perspectives, cultures, beliefs and values, knowing that her journey will inform how she approaches her work to address health disparities and access to care. I know she will do the heavy lifting that she learned from our kids at Tu Nidito as they began to fix themselves.

Tu Nidito Takes Grief and Loss Support Group Training on the Road

Grief and Loss Support Training in Vail

In response to a critical community need addressing the record cases of grief and loss due to the pandemic and resulting deaths from the virus and ripple effect of increased suicide and homicide deaths, Tu Nidito has developed a comprehensive training for school staff and a companion structured 8-week Grief group curriculum.

Amanda Marks MSW, Community Impact Director, describes the need for grief and loss training in the school setting, “The pandemic has drawn attention to grief and loss and how kids are grieving at school. Grief doesn’t have an on off switch, kids are bringing their grief to school. As Southern AZ’s grief and loss experts, Tu Nidito is available to help school personnel better support students during their grief journey. She continued, “one of our core values is – we respond – the pilot training helps us respond to our community’s unmet needs.  Equipping school staff with the tools and skills to facilitate a grief and loss group at their school increases a student’s accessibility to peer grief support, thereby helping to ensure that no one (student?) grieves alone”.

Tu Nidito completed the first pilot program for the Vail Unified School District, training 30 school counselors and student service coordinators, on the Tu Nidito model and how to implement best practices when facilitating a support group at their schools. The curriculum includes discussion topics and activities that focus on identifying and expressing emotions, developing coping strategies while at the same time decreasing feelings of isolation and building connections with other students.

Jill Wells, Family Resource Coordinator for the Vail School District, brought the training to the district and participated, she shared, “thank you for all the great information, I loved that you included reminders on how to talk and what to say, and that it takes practice and we should all be practicing.” Her team gave the training great praise saying they want more.

“We are inspired by the Vail Scholl District’s response to our Grief and Loss group training program,” said Liz McCusker, Executive Director, Tu Nidito. “We know the more we provide support, resources and education to our community the closer we come to our vision – No child grieves alone.”

Our partners at NPR dive deeper into the impact of grief and loss post pandemic:

Losing a parent in childhood is the kind of trauma that can change the trajectory of kids’ lives, putting them at risk of having symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and even poor educational outcomes. Yet few schools have resources in place to help kids going through this. The problem has come into sharp relief during the COVID-19 crisis, which left more than 200,000 kids newly bereft of a parent or primary grandparent caregiver, according to some estimates.

Read the article here



Dia De Los Muertos at Tu Nidito

Dia de Los Muertos is a tradition celebrated at Tu Nidito, it is truly one of the most special events offered. It is a night where families gather at the little nest and bring an ofrenda, tell the stories of their loved ones and connect with other families about their memories. It reveals a  unique space to grieve as a family and to hold each other as we celebrate the life of those who are no longer with us.

The air fills with laughter and joy as families arrive. Each family takes a turn  finding a spot on the table for their ofrenda. Memories come in all shapes: pictures, stuffed animals, shirts, pillows and flowers. Children go running to the playground, parents watch them from a safe distance. Through my lens I try to capture the beauty of joy from these  families, who I know are grieving. As I see them, I ask myself: who are they thinking of? Who was their loved one? Are they nervous to share? Or possibly looking forward to it?

Ofrenda table with memories of loved ones.

When the Group Coordinator comes to the microphone, families take  their seats. The laughter from the children stops, opening the way to the anticipated nostalgia this night holds.

A poem is read, A Litany of Remembrance – We Remember Them by Rabbi Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer.

Silence continues to fill the space until Bruce Phillips picks up his guitar, turning the silence into melody:

Bruce Phillips, volunteer at Tu Nidito.

You’ve been taken from me, and I am still here.

Though you loved me I know so straight and so clear

And I feel like I’m dreaming, hold my hand through the night


And I’ll never forget you, but I’m scared that I might

You groaned at my jokes and you laughed at my songs

You made up great excuses when I did things wrong

And when you went away, you’d ask me along

Except for this last time……so long


Filled to the brim, filled to my eyes

Your heart and mine

You’ll always be with me

And I’ll see you sometime

The melody blends into the night, into the wind and swirls around everyone. Families hold on to each other. Tears roll down our cheeks, we feel our hearts moving. There is no other thought in our minds but of that special person. There is no other wish, but to hold them one more time. There is no greater desire than to connect with them in that moment. There’s no stronger feeling but the love we all have for our special person.

With the song ending, families gather courage and one by one stand up to share their loved one’s story. With each story, the memories of our own special person rise to the surface. Through the lens of my camera, I try and capture the tears, the napkin over someone’s eye, the immediate sadness this grief has brought to them. But as soon as they talk about their loved one, their eyes spark, they smile and, even with a broken voice, they go on to share the life of their special person who has died.

Grandmas, grandpas, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters.

One by one stories unfold about them, who they were, their favorite things to do, their favorite food, their personality.

Funny, loving, kind, hard-working, generous, smart, fierce, strong.

It is such a beautiful feeling, that in a space among strangers, we can share this moment. We find the relief in connecting with each other’s grief. We do not compare, there’s no greater or lesser grief, there is just grief, in each of us and our journey through it. We are reminded that we are not alone in the feelings of despair, or sadness and the moments of joy.

When everyone has shared, the music fills the night, again, I have to step away and wipe some tears. This night has brought countless memories and feelings. It has brought comfort and a special way to celebrate the life of our loved ones. It has brought joy in thinking of them.

As we share food, there is a slight change, it feels like everyone is closer to each other. As I take more pictures of families, I capture the community Tu Nidito has nurtured and supported. A community in which the grieving come together to remember and honor our loved ones in an open space designed for those who want to share more…

…And also for those in the back, too shy to come forward, sharing their story in their hearts.

We talk about how we feel at Tu Nidito

We begin to heal at Tu Nidito

We tell our story, sing our song

We found a place where we belong

We belong at Tu Nidito

Written by Meredith Villaseñor, Tu Nidito Staff Member, in loving memory of her sister Anapaola.

October Newsletter

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Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Approximately 1 in 285 children will develop cancer before reaching the age of 20.
Cancer remains the #1 cause of death resulting from a disease in children in the United
States. There are an estimated 300,000 children diagnosed with cancer each year
globally*. September marks the month to bring awareness to these statistics and to
shine a light on pediatric cancer.

Tu Nidito makes an impact on children who are diagnosed with a serious medical
condition. In 2021, 71% of the children that came to Tu Nidito for services had been
diagnosed with cancer. Through one-on-one support, those children and their families
are given support in developing coping and age appropriate communication techniques
and comfort from our Support Specialists.

This month, Tu Nidito has joined with other organizations across the nation by
symbolically placing gold bows throughout our grounds in recognition of this month’s
Childhood Cancer Awareness designation. We would like to share with you two
poignant stories of children that came to Tu Nidito searching for support and comfort
following their diagnosis.

"Cancer Doesn't Dictate our Lives."

A 6-year-old child came to Tu Nidito after relapsing for a third time with leukemia. After
taking immunotherapy, she was again going to school and everything seemed
well—until she relapsed for a fourth time at the age of 10 years old. At that point, she
needed a Bone Marrow Transplant. Tu Nidito’s Support Specialist has followed one-on-
one with this case and still provides support for the family including the donor of the
Bone Marrow, her brother. Despite the uncertainty and the fear, the family has gone
through, the mother doesn’t let this bring them down and shared inspiring words about
their story:

“We refused to let this cancer dictate how we were going to live. How our child is
going to live. We live life, you have to, you can’t let cancer or your child illness tell
you how to live your life.”

“We are going to continue going on trips, we are going to show her a great time! We
are making amazing beautiful memories with her and the family.”

We couldn’t have done this without Tu Nidito, without our Support Specialist that works
with my children. Knowing that whenever I needed support there is an organization
that helps us grieve through this process.

“Our child continues to do great. She is amazing and strong,

we get our strength from her.


A 9-year old child came to Tu Nidito in December 2021 after being recently diagnosed with Leukemia. When the new year, 2022 started she began to work one-on-one with her Support Specialist. She decided she wanted to concentrate on ONE word for the new year. She chose the word HOPE. Celeene was then encouraged to write a poem using this word and what meaning it had to her.

For three consecutive years due to the pandemic and her medical condition, she was unable to attend school in person. She is now finally able to return to school as a 5th grader. During her most recent one-on-one session with her Support Specialist, she was given a list of words that described nature and she was asked to choose one that symbolized her life and feelings it evoked. She chose the word Flower, and explained:

Flowers start as a bud but then bloom into something new and beautiful. They are not afraid to let their colors show and they always show you the way towards happiness.

Tu Nidito continues to bring support and comfort to children going through cancer or any other serious medical condition. Our one-on-one Support Specialists are here to help ease this process and to remind them that they are not alone. Learn more information about how our support programs for serious medical conditions can help you and your family by visiting https://tunidito.org/support-for-families/serious-illness/


Tools for Handling Back-to-School Season While Grieving

Tools For Handling Back-to-School Season While Grieving.

After a long summer break, it can be challenging to return to a school routine. When you combine the element of grief, it can be particularly challenging for the entire family. Children and teens who are processing their own grief will likely find this change in their day-to-day activities overwhelming and with that experience increased anxiety. If you are a parent or caregiver of a grieving child or teen, the feeling of being overwhelmed might be familiar.

Tu Nidito offers one-on-one and group support twice every month to children and families going through a serious medical diagnosis or the death of a loved one. Each time, our Support Specialists are there to provide support and comfort in a warm and welcoming environment. 

Here are some tools we hope you find useful to practice at home during this back-to-school season:

1. Take care of yourself.

Any sort of activity while grieving might seem difficult, but any steps you can make to practice self care will make a difference. Children feel better supported and understood by a healthy adult.

2. Listen.

Be there and take the time to listen. By being open with your own experience of grief and sharing memories and stories, it will open the door for deeper communication. Even when they have nothing to say at a given point, remind them that you are there to listen should they want to share their feelings.

3. Create Your Own Little Nest.

 You can pick a spot in your home for you and your child or teen that feels comforting and safe. Take a moment after or before school to let them express and release heavy emotions should they arise. This practice can also be a great source of comfort on difficult days such as birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. 

4. Take it one day at a time.

When grieving, most of the intense parts of it take longer to overcome than one might think. Be patient with yourself and provide the same approach to your child or teen. Celebrate small achievements or progress made at school. These may include making a new acquaintance or praise from a teacher.

This adorable book explores a unique way to connect with your kiddos when they are away. For younger children, school is a big change from their daily routine at home. Tu Nidito’s “Little’s” group read this book during August. It can give them the courage and comfort when they feel heavy emotions during their grief in the school day.

We hope that you find these tools useful during this back-to-school season, and will serve as a reminder that you are not alone. 

Tu Nidito employs a trained Community Outreach Director who provides resources and education to the Southern Arizona community including school personnel, social services, and community organizations. We are here for our community. If you would like to arrange a workshop for your organization you can request it here. 

Full articles and more detail can be found by visiting these websites: 



Expressing Grief through Art

Expressing Grief Through Art

Art Room

Tu Nidito’s facilities offer a variety of ways to support youth in expressing themselves through play including a vast playground with swings, slides, a basketball court and play-house. Beyond this, we have specialized rooms including a Volcano Room for letting out big emotions through physical play; an Imagination Room for expressive play; and an Art Room that let’s kids and teens explore visual self-expression. 

Beyond these unique spaces, Tu Nidito’s support groups offer specialized curriculum to help children and teens acknowledge, understand, and process common emotions brought on by grief including sadness, guilt, anger, and uncertainty.  Recently, our program team and volunteers led an art activity that encouraged reflection about the special person in our life who died:

My grief is like…..

Kids and teens then created their own unique piece of art using colors that represent their feelings and special people. While some were bright and cheerful, others were darker and somber; each piece unique and expressive.

If you are looking for an activity to help process grief, this activity can easily be done from the comfort of your home using art supplies such as paper, crayons, or paint.

Tu Nidito is a place of comfort, hope, and support for children and families experiencing grief. Learn more about our services here or call (520) 322-9155.