The Solace Tree celebrated its fifth anniversary on Thursday. The nonprofit center provides free peer support groups for youths 2 to 18 and their parents who have experienced the death of someone they love.
Founded by Emilio Parga, the center has helped more than 2,000 children and adults work through their grief.
On Wednesday evening, teens, adults and children congregated in various rooms of the brick house in north Reno to share memories about their loved ones who had died.
Virginia Briggs of Sparks started attending peer support groups in September after three close relatives died within six months: her husband, her father and her mother-in-law.
“It’s my outlet for talking about loss when others are in similar situations,” she said.
Her three children, ages 11, 9 and 5, were having sleeping problems and showing a lot of anger after their father died, she said.
“We talk about their father every day,” Briggs said. “They get so excited about what they are going to share when they come (to the Solace Tree.)”
Her children have friendships with other youngsters at the center who’ve gone through similar losses. Their school friends can’t relate to her children’s situation, Briggs said.
Shauna Colestock of Sparks has two sons, ages 5 and 7, whose father died suddenly last year.
The Solace Tree has helped her to “have someone to talk to who understands,” she said.
“Everybody grieves in their own way and life does get better” are two of the concepts Colestock said she’s taken away from her sessions at the Solace Tree.
Colestock said her 7-year-old son was angry about his dad’s death and wouldn’t talk about it at first.
“His anger has died down” since meeting others who understand, she said.
Noelle Johnson, 12, of Sparks, started coming to the center about a year ago, three years after her mother’s death and following the suicide of a cousin.
What were her impressions of her first peer session?
“I thought it was cool, but scary,” she said. “If it weren’t for Solace Tree, I’d be a lot more depressed.”
Andrew Evland, 17, of Stead, said “stuff in my life was getting harder” and the Solace Tree “helped me to get past the feelings.” Evland was grieving over the loss of his aunt, who had served as a parent figure to him for many years.
Zac Kelsey, 14, of Cold Springs, decided he needed Solace Tree when his grades started to slip.
“My mom died about four years ago,” he explained. “My grades drop around the time of her death each year.”
He said smells and sights bring back memories of his mom, and Solace Tree gives him a place to share some of those memories.