‘We feel safe there’
On Monday evenings, the Gilbert family hops into the car and drives across town to an old farmhouse on Northwest Boulevard in Davenport. Inside those walls, Rachel, John, and daughter Julia, do the hard work of grieving.
Richard and Francie Hedeen were Rachel’s parents and Julia’s grandparents. They died 11 months ago in a crash in Minnesota. They were on their way to one of the many travel adventures they loved to take together.
The farmhouse the Gilbert family goes to is the home of Rick’s House of Hope. It’s a center for traumatized and grieving children – and the adults who love them.
“We feel safe there, like we’re not alone in a world that is so strange and shattered,” Rachel said. “The car cannot drive fast enough to get there on Monday nights.”
Julia participates in play and art therapy, with a puppet theater and drawing among her favorite activities. She is learning ways to deal with stress, loss, anxiety. Meanwhile, Rachel and John attend a group for adults, where they can feel free to let their emotions show.
“We’ve learned tools to help,” Rachel said.
Emily Gordon, a St. Paul member, leads Rick’s House of Hope. It is now part of Vera French Community Mental Health Center, after a merger last year.
Rick’s House of Hope was founded 17 years ago. It is named for Rick Johnson, a chaplain and step-father of St. Paul member Tom Hepner. Rick died suddenly in 1997, but his work lives on through the center that bears his name. Services include fall, winter, and spring support groups for children of all ages and developmental levels, special holiday events, crisis debriefing for traumatic situations involving children, and two one-week summer day camps.
The services are offered at no cost or for a small donation.
“It’s a house run by kids,” Emily said as she gave a tour of rooms filled with therapeutic toys of all sorts – the puppet theater, books, sand table, ping pong table, games, and art supplies. “It’s a safe and cozy place to talk about really tough things with others. That’s the most important piece – there’s lots of research that shows how important it is not to feel alone.”
Kids come to Rick’s House of Hope for a wide variety of reasons: death of a family member or friend, divorce, abuse, a parent who is in prison. Emily, who is a mental health counselor, six interns, and about 30 volunteers ensure kids and adults receive the therapy they need. They support kids age 3-18.
Rachel discovered Rick’s House of Hope shortly after she returned to her work after her parents’ death. She is an emergency room nurse at Trinity Medical Center. She was searching online for grief resources, and stumbled upon information about the organization.
The Gilberts are now on their third eight-week session of Monday-night meetings, with plans to continue. “We can go however long we need to,” she said. “They have helped us heal.”
To learn more about Rick’s House of Hope, visit www.rhoh.org.