Ele’s Place Comforts Grieving Children and Teens in Ann Arbor

Providing a Local Safe Space with Peer Grief Support Groups

Ele’s Place Ann Arbor is a local nonprofit providing vital peer group support, as well as other healing services.  

We interviewed Bree Arvai, Branch Director, and Hannah Brown, LMSW, Program Director, about their efforts, history, and population. 

“Ele’s Place–Ann Arbor is a healing center that serves grieving children, teens, and their families in our community and the surrounding southeast Michigan area free of charge, for as long as a family needs,” according to Bree Arvai, who has been with Ele’s Place Ann Arbor since 2018. 

“Ele’s Place Ann Arbor is the only nonprofit in our community and the surrounding southeast Michigan area dedicated solely to helping children and teens work with and through grief in a peer-to-peer setting,” said Arvai.

Ele’s Place, Ann Arbor was established in 2007, but in 2019 opened its doors to its new healing center, “A Home for Healing Hearts.” They were then able to expand the services to four evenings, helping about 160 grieving children, teens, and families each week.

Currently, one in twelve children in Michigan will experience the death of a sibling or parent before age 18. Almost everyone will experience the death of a significant person in their life before adulthood. 

Unfortunately, there will always be a need for grief counseling, but Ele’s Place Ann Arbor is there to help. 

“Unresolved grief negatively affects our children and teens, contributing to alarming rates of depression, addiction, and violence,” described Arvai. “The life-long impact we can have on a young person who is grieving is truly limitless. Ele’s Place Ann Arbor provides our children and teens with a confidential, safe place to share their feelings and memories with peers. We help provide them with the coping skills they need to navigate their grief journey and discover the strength and courage they possess to be the hero of their own story.”

Ele’s Place was founded in Lansing, Michigan 30 years ago, when a group of mental health professionals, concerned community volunteers, and Betsy and Woody Stover saw a community need. 

The Stovers realized the benefit of bereavement support that they needed for their three young children after the death of their 11-month old daughter, Ele.

“After a great deal of research of other children’s grief centers across the country, they determined that peer support for grieving children and teens who had experienced the death of someone significant to them was the best way to learn to cope with their feelings of grief, sadness, anger, and loss,” according to Arvai.

 The name of the organization has important meaning as well according to Arvai.

“Of note, the name of our organization Ele’s Place is named after Betsy and Woody Stover’s daughter AND Betsy found a deeper connection between her daughter and the mission of the organization after searching in the dictionary for acronym definitions – Embracing Loss Effectively,” according to Arvai. 

Ele’s Place is the only nonprofit in our community and the surrounding southeast Michigan area dedicated solely to helping children and teens work with and through grief in a peer-to-peer setting. 

Ele’s Place Ann Arbor serves grieving families from 10 SE Michigan counties, including Genesee, Hillsdale, Ingham, Jackson, Lenawee, Livingston, Monroe, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne. 

More than half of the families they serve are from Washtenaw County. Currently, Ele’s Place has four branch locations throughout the state of Michigan, including Lansing (1991), Ann Arbor (2007), Grand Rapids (2013), and Flint (2015).

Hannah Brown, LMSW, Program Director, who has been with Ele’s Place Ann Arbor since 2013, described the main services and programs. 

 “The primary service that Ele’s Place Ann Arbor offers is our evening peer support groups for grieving children and teens ages 3-18,” stated Brown. “Groups are offered at no cost to the families. Our intention is to create safe spaces for children and teens to come together and participate in a variety of activities in hopes that they connect with others their age, and understand they are not alone in their grief process.”

 “Peer groups are divided by age, typically Preschool/Kindergarten, Early Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School and High School, and led by trained volunteers with oversight from our Clinical Program staff,” further detailed Brown. Groups allow children/teens to realize they are not alone in their grief process when they connect with individuals their age.

“Peer support groups for the child’s/teen’s parent(s) or guardian(s) are also available, and are facilitated by Licensed Clinicians,” Brown stated. “It’s important to be able to support adults in their grief, so they can be more present with their child’s/teen’s grief,” according to Brown. 

Brown noted that before coming to Ele’s Place, many children and teens share that they feel alone in their grief experience, keep their emotions inside, and do not want to burden their family members. Often, friends do not seem to understand if they have not had a similar experience. 

“At Ele’s Place Ann Arbor children and teens have a place to share their stories and memories, explore their feelings, learn coping skills, and meet new friends who understand them,” explained Brown. “Our role is to be present with grieving children and teens and to walk alongside them in their journey. We know we cannot fix what’s happened, however, we can be present with them and the feelings they have.”

Brown explained that a variety of activities are used to help children and teens express their fears, anger, guilt, and sadness while processing their grief in a safe and empowering environment. The utilization of music, art, storytelling, writing, and play promotes the healing process, she further described. 

Arvai concluded by explaining that peer grief support services provided are: 

  • 100% FREE OF CHARGE, for as long as a family needs
  • 100% COMMUNITY SUPPORTED, by individuals, companies, small businesses, and foundations

And to fund their peer grief support programs, Arvai also described three fundraising events planned for 2022. 

  • Saturday, May 7th  Derby Day Soirée, an evening of entertainment, engagement, big hats, bow ties, and mint juleps, including LIVE coverage of the 148th Kentucky Derby.
  • Saturday, June 25th Healing Hearts Family 5K Walk/Run, a family-friendly event to honor, celebrate and remember a special person who has died.
  • Tuesday, October 11th, Healing Hearts Society Fundraising Breakfast, a beautiful morning event filled with bravery, courage, and hope, as children, teens, families and special guests share their grief journeys and their Ele’s Place stories.

“Ele’s Place believes that no child or teen should have to grieve alone,” according to Arvai. “If families need assistance, please call Ele’s Place Ann Arbor at 734-929-6640 to speak with our Clinical Program Staff.”

Ele’s Place Ann Arbor 5665 Hines Drive, Ann Arbor  734.929.6640 annarborinfo@elesplace.org  elesplace.org