Pilot Program Aims to Address Unresolved Grief Among Homeless Youth ​

Contact: Meghan Reinold 

Tu Nidito Children and Family Services 


[email protected] 


ARIZONA, April 4, 2024 — Tu Nidito Children and Family Services, a nonprofit that aims to create a community of acceptance and understanding for those grieving a serious medical condition or death,  announced today that they received a $25,000 Community Impact Grant from New York Life. The grant will support a pilot program in partnership with Our Family Services, another local nonprofit focused on tackling homelessness, aimed at addressing unresolved grief among youth in the homeless community. 

The pilot will provide peer grief support groups for youth ages 12-17 experiencing homelessness. It is a  collaboration between Tu Nidito Children and Family Services and Our Family Services. The pilot will offer five cohorts. Sessions will move youth through grief activities designed to address traumatic death loss. Participation is intended to lower feelings of anger and increase feelings of resiliency leading to improved mental health. 

“We are honored to receive this grant to address the needs of youth experiencing homelessness in partnership with Our Family,” says Liz McCusker, Executive Director of Tu Nidito. “Together we will support youth in understanding and processing how grief has impacted their lives, assisting them in moving forward with less anger and isolation.” 

Colleen McDonald, Chief Program Officer at Our Family Services elaborates: “Our services for young  people center around trauma informed care; by adding a grief support element through this partnership with  Tu Nidito, I believe it will help build resiliency with these youth by addressing traumatic grief and death.” 

New York Life agent and Tu Nidito board member Supriya Bakshi continues: “I am grateful for the support of New York Life to help further the mission of Tu Nidito, an organization I passionately support. I look forward to following the progress of the pilot program and continuing the partnership between New York  Life and Tu Nidito.” 

The Community Impact Grant program awards grants of up to $25,000 to local nonprofit organizations,  which are championed by New York Life agents and employees. Since the program’s inception in 2008, 850  grants totaling more than $12 million have been awarded to nonprofits across the country.  

Tu Nidito is a safe place where children, teens, young adults and caregivers find comfort, hope and support  while they are grieving the diagnosis of a serious medical condition or the death of a loved one. All programs  are offered in English and Spanish, at no cost to children and families. For more information, please visit www.tunidito.org

Our Family’s mission is to eliminate homelessness and strengthen our community. This is done by providing stability in times of crisis, linking people to support and resources, supporting social  connections, engaging our neighbors to tackle tough community issue and acknowledging and combating systemic inequities through policies and advocacy. For more information, please visit  www.ourfamilyservices.org 

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

Camp Opportunities in Arizona

Looking for a camp that serves children impacted by serious medical condition and death? There are a number of organizations throughout the state of Arizona providing weekend and overnight camps for kids, teens and families. Discover a camp that meets your child’s needs!

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