• Christina Mehta Prendiville

Valerie’s House Inaugural Event Inspires, Spreads Awareness

National speaker and panel of local high school students address the community

Valerie’s House, Inc., a Southwest Florida nonprofit helping grieving children, hosted a breakfast presentation in celebration of National Children’s Grief Awareness Day on Thursday, November 16. More than 200 representatives from the community were in attendance, including teachers and counselors from the school district, the School Board of Lee County, the State Attorney’s office, hospital executives, and the business community. Family members raising children who are grieving were also in attendance.

The event was held inside the Gale McBride Pavilion at the Historic Burroughs Home & Gardens and began with breakfast and a keynote presentation from Andy McNiel, former executive director of National Alliance for Grieving Children. His presentation, Kids Grieve Too: Understanding and Helping Children After a Death, drew praise and at times tears from the crowd. It was the first time McNiel has addressed a Southwest Florida audience.

“Recognizing children’s grief is a movement and we want all of you to be a part of that,” McNiel said. “Grief is personal and even though you don’t see a child grieving on the outside, what is going on inside is likely completely different.”

A well-received panel of local high school students who have gone through loss also participated in the presentation. The teenagers talked about their experience of the death of a parent, how their schools and friends have responded, and about their hope for the future.

“School and my friends didn’t know how to help me after my dad died,” said Fort Myers teenager Austen Mee. “I used to be so angry. But having other kids at Valerie’s House to talk to has helped me a lot.”

Angela Melvin, founder and CEO of Valerie’s House, held the event at no cost to attendees as a gift to Southwest Florida for supporting the organization over the past two years. Melvin said the organization plans to make the breakfast an annual event and continue educating the community on how to help grieving children.

“We have come a long way since opening our doors and we still have a lot of work ahead of us to reach every child grieving in our community,” Melvin said. “It is an honor and a privilege to help these children.”

Since opening in January 2016, Valerie’s House has helped more than 200 grieving children and their families connect, support each other and learn the tools to move forward after a loss. The organization’s vision is that no child will grieve alone.

Bubba’s Road House, IBERIABANK, Mullins Memorial Funeral Home & Cremation, Uncommon Friends Foundation, and VITAS Healthcare sponsored the event.

Valerie’s House is a 501(c)3 organization and a United Way Partner Agency that is fully supported through generous donations from the community. For more information, go to or call 239-841-9186.

Pictured left to right: Hayley Edwards, Allyson O’Brien, Danielle Visone, Shon Wells, Carol Gates, Roseanne Visone, Andy McNiel, Angela Melvin, Alton Green, Leslie Erschen, Barbara Bodenhamer and Jeff Lampila

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