FORT WAYNE – Grieving is hard work.
Its been more than 20 years since Dave and Gail Farragh lost their daughter, Erin, the inspiration for Erins House for Grieving Children. But even they still get choked up.
She was a girly girl. She liked dresses and dolls and people, Erins mother said in response to a strangers questions. There were so many aspects of her that we were just getting to know. She was only 5.
Erins House confronts raw grief every day. The local nonprofit helps children cope with the loss of a loved one.
Now the staff and volunteers are able to do that work in a new, $2.75 million building just south of St. Joe Center Road at 5670 YMCA Park Drive West. The Farraghs were among dozens who attended an open house and blessing ceremony on Saturday.
Although the Farraghs moved out of state a year after starting Erins House, the community has steadfastly supported the organization, which hit its fundraising goal in only about nine months.
A lot of foundations, corporations and individuals really stepped up to the plate to make sure Erins House had a permanent home, said Rachel Burkholder, who does marketing for the nonprofit.
The 14,000-square-foot center includes numerous rooms where children, teens and adults can meet and talk about their feelings. Trained staff and volunteers guide discussions, crafts and other activities.
Erins House serves about 1,200 families a year or about 400 people in any given month, Burkholder said.
The hallways are painted with murals in bright, kid-friendly colors. The rooms each have themes, including the volcano room, which allows children to release their anger and energy in a safe environment with padded floors and walls.
Taylor Crowell has volunteered at Erins House for about three years. The IPFW psychology and sociology major meets with a group twice a month.
He was standing outside the volcano room on Saturday, talking to visitors about the organizations role of offering children a safe, supportive place to talk about death – if they want.
If they dont want to, theyre never forced, he said.
The casual approach works well with children, who might share deep thoughts one week and clam up the next, Burkholder said.
Its really rewarding that at the end of the night, its hard to get the kids to go home, she said.
Dave Farragh heartily approves of the new home the Fort Wayne community has built with donations that support the organizations mission. He couldnt bring himself to choose just one room that might be her favorite – the fish room? The beach room? The crayon room?
If Erin could be anywhere, this is where her spirit could live on, he said of the entire building.
His wife agreed.
I envision her saying, Thats why I came, Mom, Gail Farragh said, unleashing a fresh round of tears.
Wiping her eyes, she explained, Were all people on a journey to some kind of healing and wholeness.