After the tragic death of a local teen student, Hospice of Santa Barbara was asked to come to the school she attended to help the other students cope with their grief and emotions about the sudden loss of their friend. A year or so later, a spate of teenage suicides also had local school officials reaching out to Hospice of Santa Barbara to help bring some level of understanding and emotional support to fellow students.

The conflation of these and other death-related incidents led to the official formation of the Hospice of Santa Barbara School Outreach Program, a permanent presence of Hospice of Santa Barbara in local schools.

The mission of the program is to provide no-cost grief counseling to students in local middle and high schools related to any issues they are experiencing related to the death of a friend or family member.

In the most recent school year, 2012-13, Hospice of Santa Barbara served more than 100 students with 270 individual sessions, and 60 group sessions. The organization works in seven area high schools, including Dos Pueblos, San Marcos, Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Rincon, El Puento and Los Robles at Los Prietos. Hospice of Santa Barbara is also serving students at Carpinteria Middle School, and Cleveland, Franklin and Canalino elementary schools. Hospice of Santa Barbara has four counselors assigned to the schools with five hours per week dedicated to each school.

Young people express grief in a variety of ways: sadness, emotional confusion, social withdrawal and isolation, fear and anxiety, anger and aggression, and self medicating with drugs and alcohol.

“There are more grieving children than most of us realize — one out of 20 children will experience the death of a parent before they graduate from high school while one out of every seven children will face the death of someone close to them,” said Steve Jacobsen, executive director of Hospice of Santa Barbara. “Our work in the schools helps to normalize feelings for these kids who are grieving; to let them know that they aren’t alone and, in fact, there are many other kids experiencing the same kinds of emotions — emotions and feelings that are natural and part of the grieving process.

“Whatever kind of loss it is, we come alongside each child, teenager and adult in their grief, patiently helping them find a genuine path to the next stage of their life. We believe we are not only helping them get through a painful time in their life, but teaching them how to deal with loss throughout their life. We are grateful that we do not have to charge a fee to any one of them, or ask if they have insurance — this is thanks to our past, present and future donors who recognize the value of what we provide.”

In addition to the work Hospice of Santa Barbara does in the schools, it offers professional counseling for all ages, including youth, at its offices. Hospice of Santa Barbara serves more than 700 people every month. All services at Hospice of Santa Barbara are free of charge. The organization receives no government or insurance reimbursements. For nearly 40 years, Hospice of Santa Barbara has been committed to providing care that is not limited by anyone’s age or ability to pay. It is able to do this because people in the community support Hospice of Santa Barbara with donations, grants and bequests.

To find out more about how to support the work at Hospice of Santa Barbara, click here or call 805.563.8820.

— Kelly Kapaun is a publicist representing Hospice of Santa Barbara.