Kayla DeLuca was just 9 years old when her mom died in a car crash.
Her world stopped, and a feeling of isolation set in, she said.
But with the Cove Center for Grieving Children, an organization with roots in the Shoreline that offers free programs to children dealing with the loss of a loved one, DeLuca found a way to move forward.
And scheduled for Oct. 20, Run for the Cove will mark the organization’s biggest annual fundraiser, and DeLuca hopes folks will consider donating.
“The Cove ... is what can help people’s worlds start turning again,” DeLuca said.
DeLuca, now 24, has given back to the Cove in her own way. After college, she spent two years serving as a facilitator for the Cove’s Guilford site — the same one she attended as a child.
Every other Sunday,DeLuca would work with a group of grieving kids. By her side was Michelle Dailey, a licensed family therapist who said she has been with the Cove for more than 20 years.
Dailey was there when DeLuca attended the Cove 15 years ago and when she returned as an adult to give back some of her own time.
“It was just beautiful to watch her grow and blossom and be happy again,” Dailey said, adding that DeLuca brought something special to the table as a facilitator: she could genuinely tell the kids she understood how they felt.
Born out of loss
The Cove was founded 24 years ago by those intimately familiar with the needs of grieving children, according to current Executive Director Allison Gamber.
Co-founder Jim Ems-weiler’s first wife died suddenly of a heart attack, Gamber said, leaving behind three young children.
Emsweiler and his second wife, Mary Ann Emsweiler, found the state lacked resources that could help the kids grieve the loss of their mother, Gamber said.
“It [the Cove] really came out of their awareness of the need for grieving services for kids,” Gamber said.
The Emsweilers teamed with therapist Renée McIntyre to set up the Cove’s first site in Guilford, according to the Cove’s website.
The organization now has seven sites throughout Connecticut and runs a weekend-long annual summer camp, Gamber said.
Launched after the Sandy Hook tragedy with the support of Eluna Network, formerly known as the Moyer Foundation, Camp Erin now serves about 80 children a year, Gamber said.
“The crux of the camp is to teach the kids how to grieve,” the executive director said, adding that one of the most important elements of the camp is “to look across the table and see somebody else who is going through the same thing.”
‘A community of support’
Giving children the chance to be with others who are just like them also is a vital part of the Cove’s on-site programs, DeLuca said. “That’s invaluable in my opinion.”
As a child, the Cove helped ease her feelings of isolation, giving her comfort and stability, she said.
Dailey described the Cove as a “community of support.”
“We so often hear from the kids that they don’t want to feel different from other kids,” she said. “We also really encourage them as they go along in life to ask for support.”
The Cove provides grieving kids with an important foundation that helps them cope with stressors and thrive later in life, Dailey said. She sees participants “emerging with more confidence and kindness toward themselves and others.”
Dailey’s own personal experience helps her reflect on the importance of the Cove. After she lost her sister when she was seven, the adults in her life shielded her from the tragedy, as was typical of the culture at that time, she said.
But the grief caught up with her later in life.
“If children aren’t given the opportunity to be supported and deal with a loss early on, it will wait for them,” Dailey said. “Kids want to be part of the healing process.”
Dailey is looking forward to seeing families for whom the Cove has made a difference come together on race day. Many attend the fundraiser every year and reflect on their experiences, she said.
“The Cove event is such a beautiful way to honor loss,” Dailey said. “It really allows us to continue the program for the children.”
Run for the Cove will be held at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison and includes a 5K road race, a two-mile memorial walk and a fun run for kids.
Pre-registration ends Oct. 11 — when fees to participate will increase — but those interested can sign up online until Oct. 18. Donations will be accepted through Oct. 31.