Thank You, Volunteers!


“Life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In this life we cannot always do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

– Mother Teresa

National Volunteer Month in the United States takes place in the month of April.  This month is dedicated to honoring all of the volunteers in our communities. 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a volunteer is a person who voluntarily undertakes or expresses to undertake a service.

I would like to thank my mother who, at a young age, introduced me to volunteer work. Thanks, Mom for being an inspiration to me! She taught at a bible school camp, bringing me along to assist in the lessons. To this day, my mom has continued volunteer work through her parts in various plays with the Hollow Tree Players in a small town called Ligonier.  All of the money raised for each play is donated to a local family or organization in need.  


(My mom, in the red dress, performing on stage.)

I have discussions with my children about small ways they can volunteer at school and in our community.  How can kids help out at school to create a kind environment conducive to learning?

Possible ways include to reach out to a child playing alone at recess, say “hello” to another classmate who looks sad, or show kindness to a new student.  My hope is that my daughter and son will show empathy towards others throughout their lives. The empathy seed is planted at a young age by the caregivers.  By modeling and giving your child opportunities to help others, the seed will continue to grow. 

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes.  It’s a learned skill that begins developing in infancy through the way caregivers interact with the baby.

Thank-you to all of the volunteers who dedicate their hearts to helping others! 

Around 13 years ago, I learned about Safe Harbor in while attending a school counselor’s meeting.  I became a trained volunteer in the summer of 2004.  A special thanks to the volunteers at the Safe Harbor Bereavement Center in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania who facilitate support groups with children, teens, and adults during the school year.  Camp Charlie, a week-long camp in June, is also made possible by volunteers.  (Coordinated by a wonderful staff!)


(Shari, Richard, Joni, and Jackie in the photo after our group this week. The photo is missing Maria. We facilitate a bereavement support group for children ages 10 to 11 years-old.)


How will you make a difference?

Thank you for taking the time to read my post!




Joni Patras is a previous elementary school counselor with a Master’s Degree in School Counseling, volunteer for 13 years with the Safe Harbor Bereavement Center in Pennsylvania, picture book writer, SCBWI Member, Zumba & kickboxing lover, and a mother of two children/ one fur baby.


The Silence Of Our Friends

Written by Joni Hay Patras


I have a memory of elementary school, but it’s not a positive memory. One year, there was a girl in my class who talked and walked in a different way. I recall her having a hearing aid. The boys in my class teased her, imitating the way she walked. What I don’t remember is anyone standing up for her. I don’t remember if I stood up for her. All you need is one person to stick by your side. To speak up when everyone else in the room is silent. I do remember the sadness in her eyes after being teased. She must have transferred to another school the following year. Hopefully, she was treated with kindness and respect.

Fast forward to high school. It might have been our senior year. My friend, Stacy, invited a boy to eat lunch at our table every day. I don’t think he had anyone to sit with at lunch. He acted developmentally younger than his chronological age. He obviously had a crush on her. She received a ring at lunch! I also recall how she reacted to the gift- not with embarrassment, but with kindness.

I recently talked about these two memories with my own children.

My hope is that they will always……

Include others.

Stand up for kids who are being teased.

Look for the kids at recess who are playing alone.

Invite a student sitting alone at lunch to sit at their table.

Act kind to everyone- even if they don’t like you.

Believe in yourself to make the right choices.


“Be the RAINBOW in someone else’s CLOUD

-Maya Angelou

Children’s Grief Awareness Day: November 17, 2016 by Joni Hay Patras


 (Safe Harbor’s Blue Ribbon of Hope Project for Children’s Grief Awareness Day 2015)

When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

Fred Rogers

* 1 out of every 20 children aged 15 and younger will suffer the loss of one or both parents.

* 1 in 5 children will experience the death of someone close to them by age 18.

National Children’s Grief Awareness Day is focused on bringing to mind the children all around us who experienced the death of a loved one. It is observed the Thursday before Thanksgiving every year.

For more information, visit

If you work or interact with children, it’s essential to become educated on how children grieve. Some people think that after a certain amount of time, a child’s grief will be over.  This is not true.

FACT:  Children reprocess their loss as they age. 

Support systems need to available for EVERY child as they get older.  Children need to know they are not alone. Children experience loss in different ways than adults.  Support groups utilize different modalities (art, music, drama, exercise) for the child to work through their grief.  To find a support group in your area, click on the following links:


1.  Wear BLUE clothing on November 17, 2016.

2.  Grief Education.  Read articles about how children and teens grieve.  I have an extensive resource list on my website containing articles for educators and caregivers.

3.  Consider contacting a bereavement center in your area to see how you can help. Most centers have “wish lists.” If you belong to an organization, consider having a fundraiser to collect items on the wish list. (Markers, molding clay,  paint brushes, paint, empty shoe boxes, stickers, puppets, etc…)

Another way to help is by volunteering as a support group facilitator at a center in your area.  I discovered the Safe Harbor Bereavement Center during my first year as a school counselor in Pennsylvania. I just knew that I was supposed to be involved with this program.  And I’ve been there ever since my training in 2004.

The children and teens usually participate for 2 years.  There is also a week-long camp every summer.  A few participants have now become “camp buddies” to the younger children. And some have even become volunteer support group facilitators.  These groups are offered to children and teens with no cost.  Safe Harbor currently supports over 130 children and teens, 70 parents, and 4 young adults.

Bereavement centers are always looking for new volunteers.  Support groups usually meet every other week.  Teaching or counseling experience is not required to become a volunteer facilitator. Bereavement centers offer a training, along with information on activities. Consider making a difference in the lives of children.


“Be a RAINBOW in someone else’s CLOUD

-Maya Angelou

Grief Support for Children- Part 1

“When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.  The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

-Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers)-


Night Lights our 8-9 year old support group created last year.


What support is available for children who are grieving a death of a loved one? 

If your child needs immediate support, begin with the school counselor.  The school counselor will have resources; such as, picture books about dealing with loss.  The school counselor can also inform you about support groups/camps in the area.

Support Groups:

Children are often nervous at first about participating in a support group.  I have volunteered for 11 years at a bereavement center.  After the first group session, children always want to return a second time.  A child usually participates for 2 years in our groups.  We call it “rocking out” when it’s time for a child to leave the group.  There’s a special ceremony on their last night- we have a few rocking out at the end of May.  (They are sad to leave, but are definitely ready.)

Support groups are beneficial for several reasons.  Children learn- “I’m not the only one going through this.”  It’s a safe place for kids to discuss their feelings. 



At Safe Harbor, we have a music therapist and an art therapist who visit groups.  There’s several rooms that provide a warm and comfortable environment for grieving children, teens, young adults and their families. 

Every group session runs the same way- an opening circle, activity/play time, and closing.  The groups meet every other week during the school year.  Then, Safe Harbor offers a week-long camp in June.  This past winter, they offered a special weekend called the “Harboring Hope Project.”  It was a music and art experience for kids/teens.  We have a Movie Premier in May of the activities that took place.  I am really looking forward to the showing! 


 Music Room

A recording space filled with instruments, drums, and equipment to foster expression of feelings through music and rhythm.


Volcano Room

The Volcano room has cushioned walls/floors and punching bags.  This room creates a place where children can express their anger, rage, and sadness- or just have fun within a protected setting.


Art Room

A spacious and well supplied art room is filled with materials which encourage participants to express their emotions and creativity.


 To find grief support and services in your area, check out the following websites:

  • The National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC)

The NAGC provides a network for nationwide communication between hundreds of professionals & volunteers who want to share ideas, information, and resources with each other to better support the grieving children and families they serve in their own communities.  Click on a state to find grief support in your local area:

  • The Dougy Center, The National Center for Grieving Children & Families

The Dougy Center provides a safe place for children, teens, young adults and their families who are grieving a death to share their experiences.  They offer peer support groups, education, and training.  Check out their website below to search 5oo listings of grief centers that provide support and services:

Summer Camps:

There are national and local summer camps offered across the United States.

  • Camp Erin, created and funded by The Moyer Foundation

    Camp Erin is the largest nationwide network of free bereavement camps for children and teens ages 6-17 who have experienced the death of someone close to them.  There are nearly 48 camp locations nationwide.  If you are interested in a Camp Erin summer camp, check out their website below for a camp in your area:

Send me a message if you have any questions about bereavement groups for kids/teens.


Memory place mats for Thanksgiving.


Lanterns to remember loved ones.

If you are new to my website, there’s an updated RESOURCE LIST that contains several articles on helping children/teens with grief.

 “Be a RAINBOW in someone else’s CLOUD.”

-Maya Angelou

Talking To Kids About Kindess & Acceptance

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.


I found a poem written by a children’s book author, Patricia Gatto.  She wrote a picture book on bullying.   She likes to end her presentation on bullying with the following poem.  I plan on reading this poem to my own kids, in hopes of generating a discussion on being kind to others.  If you are a teacher, you could read this poem during a morning meeting.

I always love to hear children discuss ways to help others.  During my school counselor days, I created a club called Kids Who Care for fourth graders.  We met once a week during lunch for 6 weeks.  It was amazing to see children making a difference in the lives of other people.  My hope is that you will share the poem with at least 1 child.  It’s a great way to lead into a conversation about bullying.  Sometimes kids are often being bullied, but too scared to tell anyone.

Be Kind

by Patricia Gatto

Be kind to others,

take a good look around.

Although we are different,

similarities abound.

Try not to judge,

pick on, or tease.

Treat each other fairly,

with kindness and ease.

Wait until you know,

what’s deep down inside.

You might have a friend,

standing right by your side.

There’s one more poem that I would like to share.  My son brought this poem home in the school newsletter earlier this month.  I read it to my 10-year-old daughter today.  Then asked her, “What does it mean to see beyond labels, beyond accents, gender or skin color?”

A Prayer for the World

Let the rain come and wash away the ancient grudges,

the bitter hatreds held and nurtured over generations.

Let the rain wash away the memory of the hurt, the neglect.

Then let the sun come out and fill the sky with rainbows. 

Let the warmth of the sun heal us whenever we are broken.

Let it burn away the fog so that we can see each other clearly. 

So that we can see beyond labels, beyond accents, gender or skin color.

Let the warmth and brightness of the sun melt our selfishness.

So that we can share the joys and feel the sorrows of our neighbors.

And let the earth, nourished by rain; bring forth flowers to surround us with beauty.

And let the mountains teach our hearts to reach upward to the skies.


What are you doing for others?

How To Talk To Children About Terrorism



I was sitting with my daughter on the couch on Saturday.  She’s 10-years-old.  I knew she would hear about the Paris attacks at school from the other kids.  I wanted to be the one to tell her, so I carefully brought the subject up.  To my surprise, she already knew.  In retrospect, I should have realized that she already knew.  It was all over the television.  She didn’t have many questions for me, but wanted to be assured that we are safe.  I reminded her that she can always ask me anything.

Your own children might arrive home with questions after school this week.  Especially, if their friends are discussing the attacks in Paris.  “Don’t delay in telling your children,” says Harold Koplewicz, President of the Child Mind Institute.  Time published an article that gives an age by age guide to keep the discussion developmentally appropriate.

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Attacks in Paris:

A few other helpful articles:

The Dougy Center- Talking with Children About Tragic Events:

The Center for Grieving Children- How to Support a Child After a Tragedy:

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry- Talking to Children about Terrorism and War

National Association of School Psychologists:

I have learned a few facts from working with children.  First, children need to feel safe.  Second, they want to know the truth.  As adults, it’s only natural that we want to shield children from pain and loss.  Trust me- adults may cause more harm in hiding the facts.  That applies to all types of loss.  Third, kids often know more than we think.  (Hint: they listen to conversations when you don’t realize.  They are very sneaky that way!)  When I was a school counselor, I often heard from parents that their children didn’t know about situations going on at home.  Most of the time, the children did know what was happening and……..I already knew.

Children’s Grief Awareness Day- November 19, 2015

cgad_logoNovember 19, 2005

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”

-Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers)

Children’s Grief Awareness Day was created in 2008 by The Highmark Caring Place and hundreds of schools across the state.  It is observed every year on the third Thursday in November.  This time of year is a particularly appropriate time to support grieving children because the holiday season can be difficult for them.


Why do we need adequate support and counseling for bereaved children?

♦ According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 1.5 million children are living in a single-family household because of the death of one parent.

♦ One out of every 20 children age fifteen and younger will suffer the loss of one or both parents.

♦ 1 in 5 children will experience the death of someone close to them by age 18.

Ways to Participate in Children’s Grief Awareness Day:

1.  Wear blue on November 19, 2015.  I thought of an idea that could be used in schools.  Teachers/school staff or business organizations could donate a dollar to wear BLUE JEANS to raise awareness.  The money will then be donated to a local grief center that helps children/teens. 

2.  Educate yourself.  I listed a few websites with helpful information on dealing with children who are grieving.

I highly recommend the following website (National Alliance For Grieving Children) that contains articles and helpful links about providing understanding and support to grieving children. For example: Ten Things Grieving Children Want You To Know/ How To Help a Grieving Child/ How To Help a Grieving Teen/ Ten Ways To Help a Grieving Child/ Holidays/ Crisis, Trauma, and Grief.

How To Provide Understanding and Support To Grieving Children

Grief in the Classroom: Saying Nothing Says Alot

Articles on: Understanding Grief and Loss/ Coping With Grief/ Helping Grieving Children and Teenagers/ Grieving the Loss of a Sibling/ Understanding Grief Within a Cultural Context/ Coping With Change After a Loss.

Grief and Loss

3.  Call a local grief center in your area to inquire about a “wish list.”  Some grief centers may be in need of art supplies (clay, markers, paint, paint brushes) or toys (puppets, dress up clothes, etc…).

4.  If you are part of a grief center, coordinate a project for Children’s Grief Awareness Day.  At Safe Harbor, we are making a Blue Ribbon Hope Chain to be displayed in the hallway.  Each child, teen, and parent, and volunteer is instructed to write the name of a loved one who died on one side of a blue ribbon paper.  On the other side, they can write a message to a loved one who died/ or write a message of support to other children and teens who are grieving.  We will then link the blue ribbons together into a chain.

Go to for more information on how to participate.  The website lists several projects that you may use. The website also lists helpful articles on helping children deal with grief under “Resources.”

* Be aware that if you coordinate a project at a school, do not call attention to any particular child who has suffered a loss.  Some children/ teens may wish to keep their grief private.


Happy Halloween



Belle, our 3-year-old labradoodle, is ready for Halloween.  I did buy a huge bowl of candy, but just realized half of the candy is missing!  I made the mistake of opening the bags.  One piece then led to another….and another…..and another.  Wonder who ate the candy…….?  I will be making a quick trip to the store again for candy.  And this time, I am going to hide it from my family.

Halloween can be fun for kids, but it also a time when you should have a safety talk- especially if this is your child’s first time trick-or-treating.  I have listed a few websites with safety tips for kids and pets.  We have a sweet, but very naughty dog who loves to get into things.  Remember to keep candy out of your pet’s reach.  Chocolate can be toxic to pets.  Recently, I left a plate with my son’s lunch on the counter.   Way out of Belle’s reach.  She must have superpowers because the plate was on the ground when I walked into the kitchen.  She ate everything- a healthy carrot remained!  She was hiding under our dining room table.  Looking VERY guilty!


A few SAFETY SUGGESTIONS I liked from the websites:

  • Try adding reflective tape to costumes and candy bags.  This will help you to keep track of your children, especially when they get into a group with other kids.  Additionally, it will allow drivers to see your children when they cross the street.

  • For pets- remember outfits can get twisted on external objects on your pet, leading to injury.  I learned this lesson last year.  Belle was wearing a shirt that became caught on my fireplace screen.  She panicked, dragging the heavy, metal screen with her.  If she wears any clothing, it is only for a few minutes now.

  • Spooked pets can get lost.  Belle will be spending time in her crate during trick-or-treating.  She acts crazy every time someone knocks on the door.  I don’t want our night to end up with our family searching the area for our lost dog.



10 Summer Safety Tips for Kids


The trouble is…well, it’s like this barrel of apples. 

There’s an old saying that goes, “There’ll always be a couple of bad apples in every barrel.”

That’s the way it is with strangers.  Cubs have to be careful because of a few bad apples.

“Look!” said Sister.  “I found one!  It’s all bumpy and has a funny shape!”

“Well, it certainly is strange looking,” said Mama. 

“But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad.  You can’t always tell

from the outside which are the bad apples.” She cut it in half. 

“See?” she said. “It’s fine inside.”

“Now here’s one that looks fine on the outside…but inside, it’s all wormy.”

-The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers by Stan & Jan Berenstain

Hot days at the pool and beach. I love summer!  Days of not rushing to this activity and the next. Summer is also a time that you should be having  “safety talks” with your kids.  These talks should begin at an early age, changing your language according to their developmental level.

IMG_4404_2Belle, our three-year-old Labradoodle, is ready for the hot weather!

I promise, she honestly enjoys to dress up.  (Well, most of the time!)

10 Summer Safety Tips to Discuss with Kids

1. With younger ages, reinforce that they should stay near you in public places.  I reminded this to my son when we went into a store the other day.  I told him, “Remember there might be some wormy apples in there!”  (He’s listened to me read the Berenstain Bears book about strangers over and over again!)

2. Discuss WHO they can tell if a separation would occur. 

3. Teach your children your cell phone number.  If you have a younger child, write the number on a small sticker label.  Place the sticker on the child’s shirt.

4. Take a picture of your child before you go into an amusement park.  This will be helpful if your child does become separated from you. You will be in a panic state and might not be able to quickly recall your child’s hairstyle/ clothing colors.   Flashback to when my daughter was 4-years-old at Great Wolf Lodge during a story time in a crowded lobby.  I just blinked and she was gone.  Fifteen minutes felt like an eternity.  It’s shocking that the stress I experienced in that short amount of time didn’t cause my body to go into labor.  I’m still surprised that other people didn’t help a pregnant woman.  Just stared at me while I frantically looked for my lost child.  (Who suddenly appeared in her spot again when the show began!)

5. Role play situations.  Take turns playing both roles- the stranger and the child.  Here is one scenario.  The child is playing outside with a few friends.  A kind man drives by, stopping in front of the house.  He gets out of the car while waving a paper for the kids to see.  The kind man yells that his little dog is lost.  He asks if someone would drive around with him to find his lost puppy. (I have used this scenario with younger kids.  There is usually one child who says it’s okay to help the man!)

6. Go bananas!  Teach your child to “go crazy” if a person would ever try to take him/her.  “Going bananas” means to kick, scream, bite, fall to the ground.

7. Swim with a friend/adult.  As a child, I loved to swim.  I even tried to convince my younger sister that I was a mermaid!  Our family spent numerous days at my aunt’s pool.  Do you remember when pools had a sudden drop to the deep end?  I recall one afternoon at my aunt’s house.  Family members were gathered around talking.  My mom was right there watching me.  I slipped down the steep slant into the deeper water. I panicked, trying to make it over to the shallow side.  My aunt noticed that I wasn’t playing in the water anymore.  When a child is drowning, it might look like the child is jumping in the water.  To everyone watching, it looked like I was jumping and splashing around.  My Aunt Ruthie saved me.

8. Always wear a helmet while riding a bike/scooter. 

9. Discuss body safety rules.  Remember that abusers often know their victims!

10. Be strong to stand up to peer pressure!  Peer pressure can even happen with close friends.  In my professional experience as a counselor, it is often the kids you would never expect.  So pay extra attention during play dates!  Have a discussion about peer pressure.  Ask your child to share a time when she or he was pressured by peers.  Teach your child to follow the feeling inside that is saying, “I don’t think this is right.”

Letter Writing to Loved Ones

Dear Dad,

I am having a good time in third grade, but I miss you very much.  I’ve been sad a lot.  Remember how you used to call me Smiling Sammy?  I wish I could smile and be happy again.  Mrs. Cooper says it’s okay to be sad sometimes but that you would want me to be happy sometimes too.  I think she’s right.  Maybe I should start doing all the fun things I used to do, like playing with my friends and telling jokes and dancing and laughing.

I will tell Mom that she doesn’t have to be sad all the time either.  Maybe Mom can even pick berries with me like we used to do.  That might cheer her up a little.

I know that we will be okay.  I love you, Dad.  When I miss you, I know I can look around and remember the fun things we did together, and it’s kind of like you’re with me all the time.

Love, Your Smiling Sammy

-A letter that Sammy Jane wrote to her dad in

Samatha Jane’s Missing Smile by Julie Kaplow and Donna Pincus



Families will be celebrating Father’s Day this weekend.  Children will be making special cards and giving presents.  As a little girl, I remember surprising my dad with poems written in homemade cards.   However, Father’s Day can be a sad day for children who are coping with the loss of a dad.  A few months ago we read a picture book to our bereavement support group called Samantha Jane’s Missing Smile.  Grieving children often feel like Sammy Jane in the story.  Sammy Jane lost her smile when her dad died.  She struggles with guilt wondering, “Is it right to feel happy when my dad can’t be here to enjoy life?”

Mrs. Cooper, a neighborhood friend, helps Sammy Jane to remember the happy memories.  Then, Mrs. Cooper encourages her to write a letter to her dad.

After we read the story to the children, ages 7 to 10, each child had an opportunity to write a letter to a loved one who died.  Letter writing is a technique that can aid in releasing feelings that a child may be keeping inside.  Unresolved feelings of guilt and regret may occur if a child was not able to say good-bye.  Younger children will sometimes blame themselves for the death.  The child can be encouraged to write about their feelings in a letter.  Or the child may write about the events going on in his or her life.  Reading the book first was a helpful way to lead into our letter writing activity.  The children in our group identified with Sammy and the book brought up several topics to discuss.

Jane Annunziata, Psy.D. includes a Note To Parents at the end of the picture book, under Practical Techniques.  She writes, “Sometimes children find relief by expressing their feelings in nonverbal ways, including crying to “wash away” the sad feelings, artwork, (even young children can get relief from scribbling), and writing or journaling (which the child may or may not choose to share with others).  Giving the child control over the ways that feelings can be expressed is important, since the child has just endured the highly out-of-control experience of losing a parent.”

The letters they created to their loved ones were thoughtful and beautiful.  A few of the children also drew pictures in the letters. The details and pictures they added were remarkable.  I had to hold back my tears as the children shared their letters.  It is also a therapeutic technique for adults.  Letter writing is a personal experience.  The child may wish to NOT share- that is perfectly okay.   Finally, your child can choose WHAT to do with the letter.  For example, they may wish to frame it, bring it to the grave sight to read, or read the letter/then release balloons.


Father’s Day can be a day of remembrance.  A day to celebrate Dad’s life- the things he loved.  Eat his favorite ice cream, release his favorite color of balloons into the sky, take a trip to his favorite place.  Tell your child a “DAD story” that he or she has never heard before.

(I purchased Samantha Jane’s Missing Smile by Julie Kaplow and Donna Pincus from Magination Press.  Most of the books are written by mental health professionals.  Free shipping in the United States.  You can visit the website at