This non-profit provides support for kids working through the grieving process.
By Jane Hess Collins
Listen. That’s what Suzy Yehl Marta did over 30 years ago in Chicago. Her parents, friends, therapists, clergy, and all conventional wisdom told her that her three sons were “resilient” during her divorce and they did not need someone with whom they could talk about it.
Marta didn’t listen to them, though. Over a huge bowl of popcorn one night, she listened as her boys, ages 5, 6 and 8 at the time, talked about how they felt. She quickly discovered that they weren’t nearly as resilient as the experts claimed they would be. And now her organization, Rainbows for All Children, has helped 2.5 million kids through the grieving process.
By her own admission, Marta’s divorce was less messy than most. If her boys reaction, which she considered to be fairly average, were this traumatized and their father was still active in their lives, how must it be for other kids whose parents are absent or engaged in screaming custody battles?
Marta was involved with Beginning Experience, a Catholic program for widowed, separated or divorced adults. She attended a weekend retreat that allowed her to reflect on her emotions and grieve over her lost relationship. “As a divorced person you never get the chicken casserole or the flowers,” Marta said.
As Marta’s heart got stronger, she realized her boys were hurting too. Terrified and against everyone’s advice, she and her boys sat down to talk about how they felt. It lasted three hours. “As I became more vulnerable they became more aware,” Marta remembered. She and her boys talked about how they all feared how their family and friends would treat them, loyalty conflicts, guilt and self blame.
Convinced that a similar retreat program could help kids of divorce, Marta pestered the executive director of Beginning Experience to let her lead a weekend retreat for them. More to quiet her than support her, the director relented.
Then, one Friday night, Marta and about 20 members of her support group watched as 35 kids, heads down shuffled into to the retreat center. After a weekend of sharing how they feel pressured to support their parents and do well in school, they left Sunday smiling and clutching their parents’ hands as they left.
Marta convinced three area school principals to let her set up her seven-week program in their schools. By week five, eleven other principals had called and asked that she work with their schools also.
Rainbows for All Children was born.
Thirty years, 9,000 sites, 18 countries and 20,000 trained volunteers each year later, Rainbows for All Children’s seven programs extend into 18 countries to help kids cope with every kind of loss. One hundred and seventeen new programs have started since September. From the Sunbeams programs for preschoolers to Silver Linings for children devastated by natural disasters, Rainbows for All Children works primarily through schools and faith communities to find and heal children in need.
“I’m driven because I don’t think any child should be in pain,” Marta said. Her gift is the ability to listen to what the children are really saying. Marta used the kids’ message to create a curriculum that transcends countries, traditions, cultures and language. Her immediate plans include expanding Rainbows for All Children to support military families and to have the curriculum translated into Japanese to help the kids traumatized by the recent earthquake and tsunami.
Marta is especially pleased when the groups of children have kept in touch, sometimes for decades, or reconnect through Facebook or other social media. Some have kept their Rainbows journals and still remember how their experience with Rainbows for All Children influenced and shaped them.
Marta is adamant that kids who are undergoing a painful change or loss need support. “I just think it’s important that society hears again and again that kids are not resilient and even the best of kids need support when their family and community changes,” she said. “They just don’t naturally recover.”