18 Jul 2018 A journey to find a place of comfort for grieving children
by Angela Melvin, Valerie’s House Founder and CEO
My name is Angela Melvin and I am the founder of Valerie’s House, a special place for children in Southwest Florida to connect with one another and learn the tools to heal after they have experienced the death of someone they love.
A lot of people ask me what inspired me to open such a place. After all, the concept seems so sad, and for many people, they can’t even comprehend that children actually grieve.
I know it all too well because I lost my own mother at the age of 10 due to a car accident. However, my inspiration for opening Valerie’s House was beyond my own loss. The vision and the passion to pursue opening a grief center for children came from my experience with a 6- year old Cape Coral girl named Camryn.
I met Camryn four years ago at a Southwest Florida camp I was volunteering with and quickly learned her mother had recently died from a brain aneurism. Her dad was trying his best to keep the family stable but found there were very few resources to help his children. I immediately began spending time with Camryn and picking her up on the weekends. I shared with her that I lost my mommy too, and when I told her this, her little eyes would widened.
One day in the Spring of 2014, she said “I just feel like something was taken for me and I miss the way she loved me.” I realized then that Camryn needed support beyond what I could even give her during those weekends together. It was after that conversation that I began searching online to see what was available in other communities for children who are grieving. I located other grief centers around the country and began traveling to visit them and to see how they are helping children. I knew that our community must embrace this, and I was prepared to do everything I could to bring this special place to life.
Today, two years after opening, with the help of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and many friends and supporters, Valerie’s House is thriving in two locations in Fort Myers and Naples serving more than 200 children. We have grown to launch several programs including a program for children whose mother or father died from a drug overdose, as those numbers have skyrocketed in our community. Camryn was the first child every enrolled in Valerie’s House, and she and her family are still a part of the Valerie’s House family today. Camryn continues to be my everyday inspiration and at the tender age of 10 continues to remind me that loss doesn’t have to limit dreams.
This summer, Florida Weekly has graciously allowed us, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, to spotlight the nonprofit organizations funded through the Foundation’s 2018 competitive grant cycle. We have asked these grantees to share their stories. We are pleased to partner with these change-makers.
About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $115 million, it has provided more than $71 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com