TRAVERSE CITY — Those who work and volunteer at Michael's Place in Traverse City know that sharing grief can lessen it, especially for children who aren't quite sure what to do with those kinds of feelings.
So Melissa Fournier, program director for the nonprofit, was thrilled when Michael's was chosen to become a part of a new StoryCorps project — The Road to Resilience — that records children and young adults having conversations about the death of someone they loved.
"People need to know what kids experience and to hear it from a child themselves," Fournier said. "That's what has the power to change our response to bereaved children — it makes us aware."
Michael's Place, which offers various support groups for both children and adults dealing with death, was one of just six bereavement centers chosen from across the country to participate in the project. Michael's received a $2,500 grant, as well as training and all the equipment needed to record the stories.
StoryCorps has been around for 15 years and is built on a very simple idea — bringing people together to have a conversation about their experiences, whatever they may be. More than 100,000 stories have been recorded and are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
Emily Janssen and Nicolas Cadena of StoryCorps recently spent several days at Michael's training 12 people to facilitate a successful recording between an interviewer and their subject.
But Janssen, associate director of community training, said the 40-minute recordings are really just conversations that take place in an intimate space with just the facilitator on hand to run the equipment.
The tapes are not edited.
"We press record and go for 40 minutes or until you're done and that's what is archived," Janssen said. "These conversations do get emotional. There are lots of recorded tears."
For the Resilience project, children will be able to give a signal that they want to take a time out before moving on.
Anyone in the community under the age of 25 who has lost someone they love is invited to participate — even if that death took place several years ago.
"Sometimes this is the first time people get together to talk about the loss of a loved one," said Cadena, a national facilitator.
They can have their conversation with a parent, a sibling or a friend. And they don't have to talk about death, Janssen said.
"You can talk about ice cream, you can talk about your best friend at school, you can talk about whatever you want to talk about," she said.
Fournier said children and families may get a lot of support right after a death, but that quickly drops off.
"A lot of kids, they sort of sit with their own grief," she said. "It doesn't just end. It's not something they get over."
Recording their stories can be healing, she said.
If participants choose not to share their finished recording, that's OK. They will get a copy to take home. If they do opt to share their story they must sign a release form to allow StoryCorps to archive a copy. Release forms are not signed until after the recording is finished, Janssen said.
Less than 1 percent of archived copies are ever played on the air, Janssen said.