Assemblymember Wallace Announces $500,000 to Help Establish Grief Center in Western New York

Center will be operated under P.U.N.T. Pediatric Cancer Collaborative’s Ultimate Compassion Program

Today, Assemblymember Monica Wallace (D-Lancaster) announced that she has secured $500,000 in state funding to establish a family grief center in Western New York.The center, which will be created under P.U.N.T. Pediatric Cancer Collaborative’s Ultimate Compassion Program, will provide programming, services, grief-literacy training, and emotional support to children and families grieving from the death of a loved one.

P.U.N.T.’s Ultimate Compassion Program currently runs an annual “Remembrance Weekend” retreat that provides families who have lost a child to cancer with hope and healing through a mix of therapeutic and social opportunities over a three-day weekend.In contrast, the new center will be a one-stop-shop to provide ongoing peer-to-peer support, resources and programming to help those experiencing traumatic loss cope with their grief.Inspired by models that exist in a handful of other states, the center will be a regional resource for kids, teens, and parents, providing grief support and social connections to facilitate healing. No such model currently exists in Western New York.

The physical effects of unprocessed grief can be lethal.Bereavement is associated with a variety of negative outcomes. The Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model for Erie County finds nearly 9% of area children have lost an immediate family member, with over 1,000 newly bereaved children in Western New York in 2021 alone. Children who lose a parent or sibling before age 18 are at a heightened risk of depression and anxiety, poor academic outcomes, substance abuse, incarceration, and self-harm. Parents who lose a child face a heightened risk of depression and anxiety, marital disruption, addiction, and suicide. Grief centers provide support and services to help individuals avoid these adverse outcomes in the grieving process.

“I’m so honored to provide funding to create this critical resource for families across Western New York,” said Assemblymember Wallace.“From families who lost loved ones during COVID, to those whose lives were forever changed by the horrific May 14th shooting, to the tragic snowstorm of 2022 that claimed 47 lives, Western New Yorkers have experienced more than their share of profound grief and loss in the past few years.Our entire community will benefit from the specialized support and resources that a grief center can provide.I thank Gwen Mysiak and the entire Board of the P.U.N.T. Pediatric Cancer Collaborative for taking this enormous effort under their wing and working to make this vision become a reality.”

“For over a decade, we have seen firsthand the transformative power of peer support and connection through our services for families who have suffered a loss to pediatric cancer,” said Gwen Mysiak, Executive Director of P.U.N.T.“We have witnessed the incapacitation that follows the death of a child or sibling and the critical need for grief services in our community.This funding will enable us to provide those services to families across Western New York and serve as a resource to meet the unique needs experienced by grieving families and children in our region. We are honored and grateful to be stewards of this monumental investment secured by Assemblymember Wallace.”

Today’s announcement coincided with P.U.N.T.’s WNY Grief Training, held in partnership with the Erie County Department of Mental Health and the Dougy Center: The National Grief Center for Children and Families, to help local professionals and health practitioners learn how best to support individuals who are grieving the death of a loved one.

"Children who experience the death of a parent or sibling before age 18 are at higher risk for negative outcomes, including depression, anxiety, and hopelessness for the future, among other challenges. Providing support and connection with other bereaved children, teens, and parents is a public health priority that encourages healthy grieving and positive processing of the many changes families confront when a family member dies," said Dr. Monique Mitchell, Director of Training and Translational Research at the Dougy Center: The National Grief Center for Children and Families. "The entire team at Dougy Center: The National Grief Center for Children and Families, the first peer support organization for children, teens, young adults, and their parent(s) or adult caregivers, commends Assemblymember Wallace and the P.U.N.T. team for their work to provide these services to families in need. This vital endeavor will ensure that children and families in Western New York have a resource to turn to amidst one of life’s deepest tragedies.”