MONTEREY COUNTY — In early 2021, Hospice Giving Foundation CEO Siobhan Greene posed a question to the community, “In this time of incredible grief and loss, how can we join together to heal?” After a competitive grant process, on Dec. 9, 2021, Hospice Giving Foundation awarded Coastal Kids Home Care an initial $1.1 million grant for Heal Together, a community-wide initiative responding to grief.
Building on a legacy of caring for children at the end-of-life and supporting their parents through grief, Coastal Kids Home Care brought together an experienced network of individuals and nonprofit organizations, including Harmony At Home, Alliance on Aging and Center for Community Advocacy, among others who were poised to respond to individuals suffering throughout Monterey County.
In its first year, Heal Together unleashed a broad public awareness campaign that reached an estimated 237,000 people. Early on the program brought in expert trainers to train 24 mental health providers and over 80 community members in the language of grief and healing.
Since then, even more community members, including police officers, teachers, school counselors, healthcare workers and others, have received training.
Heal Together has also prioritized reaching low-income, South Monterey County communities most hard hit by the pandemic — to date, more than 1,200 individuals have participated in Spanish and indigenous language training and outreach events.
Today, the Heal Together team includes 15 licensed mental health providers and 13 expressive therapists offering art, music, massage cranial sacral therapy and more, along with six providers of related disciplines such as yoga, tai chi cooking and Zumba.
As of last fall, there were already 347 inquiries into the Heal Together Hub, with 259 intakes completed. In all, HT facilitated 800 counseling sessions for children, teens and adults struggling with anxiety and loss. In total more than 1,000 Monterey County residents directly accessed counseling, bereavement groups or community activities.
For Leticia Paramo, the program took her on a “healing journey” that really has no end, but one in which she grows, learns, and comes to a form of understanding with her grief.
Paramo lost her husband to a stroke in 2020 and was in such a state of grief that whenever she uttered his name “Luis,” she would burst into tears. Born in Mexico, Paramo grew up in the Aptos/Watsonville area and lived in Salinas when Luis died.
“For me, it’s a continuing journey, I’ll have to live with the loss for the rest of my life,” said Paramo, who now lives in Merced County. “I am in a much better spot now. It’s a lifetime journey and how you manage your feelings makes all the difference. Just learning about your experience and to say your loved one’s name without sadness, that’s huge. You learn that when you have to cry, you cry. You learn from others, which helps you honor your emotions.”
Now that Paramo has processed her feelings and moved through group counseling, she’s able to clearly articulate her complex feelings and not fall into a dark place.
At first, Paramo resisted counseling, determined to tough it out and “get through it.” She even thought going back to work would help her forget her grief. But it just made it worse.
Due to restrictions brought by the pandemic, she found little help following an online search. Then in September 2020, she discovered that Papillon Center for Loss and Transition offered bereavement support groups via teleconferencing.
Papillon now falls under the Heal Together umbrella and is part of Coastal Kids Home Care.
“I found it at a time I needed it most. It was a sign for me because I was at my lowest point,” Paramo said. “Looking back it was one of the best decisions I have made in the worst time of my life. I have met so many kind and amazing people through the support group, both facilitators and others who also lost a loved one, who have made a positive impact in my life and continue to motivate me to keep moving forward.”
Through the Heal Together Hub, people such as Paramo can access a central source of information on community resources to respond to grief, loss and anxiety. Heal Together combines the talents of mental health professionals and trusted community agencies to meet the incredible need for healing and hope.
Heal Together anticipates receiving additional funding from Hospice Giving Foundation to continue its work in the community beyond 2022.
Anyone in need of resources surrounding grief and its repercussions, assistance can be found by calling 831-320-0947 or complete this form online at heal-together.org.
“There is a great sense of community and it’s a great community to be a part of,” Paramo said. “It’s a valuable group and I definitely recommend it because they do a great service. I have learned a lot and I have a clearer vision. It has changed my whole life.”