An off-campus support group is reaching out to students who have lost loved ones in an effort to help them cope and to let them know they are not alone.
The support group is for people between the ages of 18 and 29 and meets at Tu Nidito, 3922 N. Mountain Ave.
Tu Nidito is a non-profit group that provides support to children and their families as they deal with serious illness and death.
Though the group works mostly with children, for the past three years they've had a support group for young adults as well. Most of the support group's members are UA students.
Program Director Linda Hardy said Tu Nidito started the support group about three years ago after receiving calls from several young adults who had lost someone and were looking for support.
Hardy said Tu Nidito only had support groups for children at the time and directed older callers to an adult group.
"I would talk to people and they told me it just didn't work," Hardy said, "They were meeting with older people, like in their 50s and 60s, and it didn't fit."
Hardy said Tu Nidito hoped the UA would start a group, but eventually decided to start one on its own.
Marian Binder, director of counseling and psychological services at Campus Health, said although Campus Health does not have a group counseling program for students who've lost someone, counselors at Campus Health do see people for individual counseling on death-related issues.
"Depending on what their issues are and on what they need we'll refer them to Tu Nidito for group support," she said. "We always mention it to people as an additional resource they can use."
Orly Shafir, family studies and human development senior, said after her father died of colon cancer two years ago, she felt lost and didn't know what to do.
"It was overwhelming, people didn't understand what I was going through," Shafir said, "I was supposed to be back at school doing normal things when I didn't feel normal at all."
Shafir said she was referred to the Tu Nidito support group and she found help there.
Shafir said the biggest comfort was being with people who had been in the group for a while.
"They've been dealing with grief for a while and you see that they get through it somehow, you know that someday it will be better," she said.
Hardy said the benefit of a support group is that people get to be with others who are going through similar experiences.
"Most people feel so alone and think that no one could possibly know what they're going through, and it's because they don't know anyone else who is going through it," she said.
Shafir now works at Tu Nidito with children who are seriously ill.
"It's nice to know that I can use my life experiences to help children who are going through similar experiences," she said.
Erin Ballenger, a UA graduate and support group facilitator, said the group offers help for people feel they can't talk about death.
"It's kind of taboo to talk about, but with the group you have people that can relate," she said.
Ballenger said first came into contact with Tu Nidito at age 12 after her mother died. Ballenger said she went to a children's support group that is structured like the group she leads now.
"The group doesn't tell people how to grieve, there's no step by step process," she said "There's a reassurance that what they're going through is normal even if it doesn't fit the perfect protocol of what grieving should look like."
Hardy said counseling is an important part of the healing process.
"In order to heal from a painful life experience, like the death of a loved one, we need the opportunity to grieve," Hardy said. "The goal is to go on and live a happy, healthy life not just to survive, but to thrive."
Hardy said some group members are dealing with a recent death while others are grieving a death that happened long ago.
Hardy said people usually attend group meetings for several months.
"We create a safe place for people to share their feelings," she said, "People look forward to coming to get support through this difficult time."
Everything said within the support group is confidential, Hardy said.
Hardy said the support group used to meet at the Newman Catholic Student Center, but said after a year the center needed the space back.
The group now meets at Tu Nidito on the first and third Thursdays of every month.
Hardy said the group is hoping to find another location for the meetings that is closer to campus since not all students have a car.
She said when the group first started there was a huge response, but said the number of people in the group has dwindled recently.
Hardy said she thinks since the group is no longer on campus, many students don't know about it.
Hardy said people interested in joining the group should contact her at 322-9155 or at Linda@tunidito.org.