HUNTINGTON, Ind. (WANE) – The death of a mother, father, or parental figure can trigger a range of emotions that are often times difficult to wade through, especially for teenagers and young kids. At Huntington North High School, a group of students who knows that pain first-hand is turning grief into guidance, helping younger kids deal with the loss of a parent.

In December of 2021, Huntington North teacher Reed Sturm overhead a conversation between two of his students. One had lost her mother, the other had lost her father, and both struggled through their losses as kids. Sturm decided then he wanted to help.

Sturm and Takoda Cook, a now senior at Huntington North High School whose mother died when she a middle schooler, teamed up to create what’s called the Deceased Parent Support Group at the high school.

“Takoda had this vision where she wanted to build something and help people,” said Sturm.

The Deceased Parent Support Group started in December of 2021 and is comprised of more than a dozen Huntington North students who have a lost a parent. They meet once a week and their numbers have only grown throughout the years.

“We’re all a support group for each other, we all hold each other up during the tough times,” said Cook. “It’s nice knowing that there are teenagers in your school that you’re able to just go to if you’re having hard times and that they can relate to what you’re going through.”

More recently, the students have started using outreach to impact others in their community. In mid-March the group visited Crestview Middle School in Huntington where the high school students met with a group of middle school students who have also lost a parent. The group does this kind of outreach a few times a year.

“We always find a cute little craft to do to get them more opening, like wanting to talk to us as friends because we want to be like friends for them. And then we were like ‘we should start bringing up situations to put their parents into it,'” said Cook.

Crestview’s visit was around St. Patrick’s Day so the students created rainbow bridges out of candy, muffins, and marshmallows. Reed Sturm says they typically plan their visits around holidays which can be particularly tough times for families dealing with loss.

“For Thanksgiving we had the turkeys and on the fingers we talked about what they were thankful for for the person they lost,” said Sturm.

Sturm went on to say the younger students open up to the older students more with every visit.

“Sometimes it just takes a little question. You say the right thing and they just start talking about it,” he said.

Takoda Cook recognizes the importance of the group’s visits, saying she wished she had had someone closer in age to talk to when she was working through her grief at a young age.

“It’s good to connect with them because it shows them that they’re not alone and that they have other people around their age that they can talk to, because talking to an adult is kind of hard in situations, especially when the adults don’t really understand what they’re going through at the time,” she said.

“I ask the kids ‘who do you talk to about this?’ and a lot of times they don’t. They just say ‘I don’t talk about it’ and they don’t want to talk about it, and the younger they are the more it seems that way, and our kids – I don’t wanna say they’re prying it out of them – but they’re just giving them a place where they can release,” said Sturm.

Takoda Cook is graduating this year, but hopes to see the Deceased Parent Support Group continue its work and create an even bigger impact in the lives of kids locally and eventually statewide.

“I would love to see [the group] expand to other high schools, and that’s hopefully what we’ll do in the future soon and we want to expand it throughout Indiana because it’d be nice to see more kids getting the help they actually need,” she said.

A long-term goal is to bring something like Fort Wayne’s Erin’s House for Grieving Children to the Huntington area.

Other resources available to Indiana families include:

  • Brooke’s Place which provides support groups, therapy options and education to children and adults dealing with grief.
    • Located in Indianapolis. Contact number 317-705-9650
  • Indiana Donor Network offers a wide array of resources, activities, books and articles to help children through the grieving process.
    • Located in Indianapolis. Contact number 317-685-0389 and 24/7 call center number 888-275-4676
  • Indiana Department of Heath offers bereavement resources for Indiana families.