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Judi's House: Need for grief support on the rise

The non-profit recently moved into a bigger space to meet the growing needs of children mourning a loved one.

AURORA, Colo. — In Colorado, the need for bereavement services for children is growing, according to the JAG Institute at Judi's House.  

Judi's House is a nonprofit that provides free grief support for families. They recently moved into a larger, 26,470 square foot space, so they can help more people, as the need rises.

Their vision is that no child should be alone in grief. 

"You could look at pretty much any wall and there'd be a quilt there," said Lucas Martinez, 14.  

Inside Judi's House, there's a fabric square created by family members to remember each loved one lost. 

"If they were losing a grandparent, their parent, a sibling, a child or something like that we were all connected in some way," said Lucas. 

His dad passed away when he was 8-years-old after a long struggle with alcohol addiction. He said talking about the loss of his father at Judi's House helped him get through it. 

"At the time of my husband’s death, Lucas didn't really know the full extent of his addiction with alcohol," said Heidi Martinez, Lucas' mom. 

She said Judi's House was there for them on their worst days.

"For him to have another outlet where he felt safe to talk about his dad was great because it gave him a way to let those feelings and those thoughts out," said Heidi.   

One-on-one counseling helped her son understand what alcoholism was at a young age and how it affected them as a family. 

"It's validating to know that it's okay to not feel okay," said Heidi. "It’s good to have somewhere where you can go and just let it all out and not feel judged."

The need for bereavement services in Colorado is on the rise. 

"Since the pandemic, the complexity of the need of the types of services that families are showing up with has grown," said Jessica Maitland-Mayo, CEO of Judi's House. "The first thought as a mother is, 'What do I need to do to help my kids be ok?'" 

Maitland-Mayo knows firsthand. She brought her kids to Judi's House when her husband of 20 years died by suicide. 

"Sadly, the need is so high for our services that we have the ability to really break our groups into different types of death loss experiences," she said. "My kids sat in a room with other kids their age who also had lost a parent or caregiver to suicide. So they had that experience, that they didn’t have anywhere else, of being able to speak without stigma and fear and knowing they were sitting with other kids who could really understand and had had a similar experience."

In particular, she said Judi's House has seen more and more people coming to them for support around suicide. 

"Our numbers are incredibly high around suicide death loss in our state and within our Denver-metro area," said Maitland-Mayo. 

She said that according to research done by their JAG Institute, last year 1 in 14 kids in Colorado were experiencing the death of a parent or sibling by the time they reached age 18. 

That number has grown to 1 in 13 kids this year, which equates to about 90,000 children. 

"We are seeing the numbers increase, not only within our state, but also across the nation," said Maitland-Mayo. "Our vision is that no child should be alone in grief."

Lucas said he knows now that he's not alone, that there's always someone to turn to when he needs support. 

"You're not alone if you've been through something like this, that there's safe places that you can go to to talk about it," he said. 

Judi's House provides free services for any child ages 3-26 dealing with a death loss. They welcome the entire family for grief support including group counseling, individual counseling, and play therapy. 

Right now, the organization is always looking for volunteers and financial donors to keep their programs going. In particular, they're looking for restaurants to partner with who are willing to donate meals for families before their group sessions. 

In 2002, former Broncos quarterback, Brian Griese, and his wife, Dr. Brooke Griese, founded Judi's House in Denver. The nonprofit is named after Brian's mother, Judi, who died of breast cancer when he was 12-years-old. 

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