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Helping Children and Familes Cope with Grief after the Maui Fires

Child reaching into a bowl of flowers

September 8, 2023 – While the immediate impacts on Maui have been devastating, one of the biggest challenges, for many, will be the quieter one ahead: grief. For children, especially, the loss of a family member at such a crucial stage in their development can be shattering to their long-term emotional well-being.

The nonprofit Nā Keiki o Emalia is working to make a difference in this delicate time, offering direct grief support services for children, teens, and families affected by the Maui fires. The nonprofit is providing peer-to-peer support groups for children and teens, along with separate groups for their parents and guardians, while also providing toys, art activities, food, and other supplies through a drop-in space at its office near Maui Memorial Medical Center.

It can be challenging to get people to talk about grief, says executive director Carole Zoom. “We’re working to make it a more normalized conversation,” she says. “Because while basic needs are the immediate priority in the beginning of a disaster, unresolved grief can lead to truancy from school, social disconnection, and other long-term impacts that none of us want to see. We’re here to try to intervene and make it better. As kids start thinking and talking about their losses and experience grief, we’re going to be there for them, now and in the long haul.”

A week and a half after the initial fires, Nā Keiki o Emalia hosted an event for grieving children and teens, bearing toys, books, art activities, kittens for cuddling, backpacks full of supplies, and more, as well as offering grief resources for families. Attendance was strong, which Zoom says is a testament to the great need facing Maui’s communities right now: “After this disaster, we have hundreds of children and families who will be grieving a recent death, which is going to potentially change the shape of our island for years.”

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