One in 15 Minnesotan children will experience the loss of a parent or sibling before they turn 18. Their grief is often overlooked and minimized within their schools and peer circles. Brighter Days Family Grief Center, an Eden Prairie non-profit organization that has served grieving children since 2017, is on a mission to change that.
“We provide free support and services to children and young adults who are grieving the terminal diagnosis or death of a loved one,” said Carolyn Kinzel, founder and executive director of Brighter Days. “In addition to free grief counseling and support groups, we host Camp Erin Twin Cities, a nationally recognized youth grief retreat that combines education and emotional support with fun, traditional camp activities. It’s a safe environment where children ages 6 to 17 can explore their feelings, learn essential coping skills, and connect with other grievers who ‘get it.’
Although it is observed nationally on the third Thursday of November each year, Children's Grief Awareness Day didn’t receive official recognition in Minnesota until Governor Tim Walz signed a proclamation in 2021 submitted by Carolyn herself. “I am grateful to our governor for granting us a statewide platform to help expand Brighter Days’ mission of promoting greater awareness and sensitivity to children's grief.” The framed proclamation proudly hangs on the wall at Brighter Days, where it serves as a continual reminder of their determination and compassion.
“Daily, we advocate for grieving children by helping their teachers, peers, and any other adults in their lives understand how they can be more sensitive and understanding. When my son lost his father in middle school, not having friends or teachers acknowledge his grief was extremely painful for him. We hear this so often from the kids we work with, and that was the motivation to make sure children’s grief awareness became an actual initiative within our state. Children deserve to feel supported, not isolated, by the people surrounding them at a time in their life that is confusing and scary.”
Brighter Days’ holistic model of care ensures that all family members have a support system after the death of a loved one. “If we are only supporting our youth, and not the people who care for them and who are also grieving, then we are not acknowledging the deep familial scars that can happen within. This is why Brighter Days provides support for all family members, including extended family members. We understand that grief has no timeline or age limit.”
Children’s Grief Awareness Day falls on November 16th this year, coinciding with the GiveMN statewide fundraiser for non-profits. Brighter Days was awarded matches of $25,000 to help sustain their free youth programming. “People have an unending capacity to help grieving children, but are understandably uncertain of how to help. That’s why Children's Grief Awareness Day is so special; anyone can get involved in simple yet meaningful ways.” To participate, visit brighterdaysgriefcenter.org and request a lawn sign. Wear blue and tag #brighterdaysmn on November 16th, and double your donation by visiting givemn.org/organization/brighterdays.