Imagine center: a pillar of the community

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MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — Imagine a facility where children can get the help they need while dealing with circumstances that are currently too overwhelming for them. The Imagine center is just that. Located in Mountainside, the facility helps those who are struggling with a traumatic loss or going through rough times in their lives.

“Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, located in Mountainside and Newark, provides free year-round grief support programs for children and families coping with loss due to death or illness,” Imagine founder and Executive Director Mary Robinson said on Aug. 7. “Our goal is to ensure that one day no child grieves alone and to foster resiliency and emotional well-being for all those who grieve. We do this through peer support groups, advocacy, and education for individuals and communities coping with loss due to death, illness or other trauma.

“We provide a loving community that fosters the discovery and development of each person’s own resiliency and emotional well-being by helping children and teens learn lifelong healthy coping skills and make meaning from their loss that allows for growth and transformation,” she continued. “Pre-COVID, we were supporting over 450 children and parents at our centers every two weeks, from 59 New Jersey towns and cities.”

The Imagine center has served the community for several years.

“Imagine was founded in October 2011, thanks to the vision of Dr. Gerald Glasser of Westfield, and opened our doors to the public to provide peer support groups in May 2012,” Robinson said.

Helping as many people as they can who are suffering and struggling with loss, the Imagine center offers services to help children and young adults of all ages.

“We support children ages 3 to 18 and young adults 18 to 30 coping with loss due to death or living with a family member with a life-altering, chronic or terminal physical illness,” Robinson said. “We provide concurrent support for parents and guardians of the children.”

According to the center’s website, the Imagine center offers volunteer opportunities such as peer support group facilitators, program volunteers, ambassadors and Imagineers. As facilitators, volunteers are considered the heart and soul of Imagine, giving their time and energy to make a lasting difference in the lives of grieving children, teens and adults, while program volunteers assist with all details involved with running peer support group programs. Ambassadors are the face of the Imagine tours, putting the Imagine center’s name out there in order to get as many people as possible to know about the center. Ambassadors commit to having a minimum of 10 people attend an “Imagine a World” tour within a three-month period.

According to the website, Imagineers assist with mailings, making copies, assembling binders, staffing tables at events and conferences, and distributing flyers and brochures at funeral homes, schools, houses of worship and downtown businesses.

As did so many places, Imagine had to pivot in response to the coronavirus epidemic.

“In March, we moved our support groups online,” Robinson said. “We continue to provide family intakes, one-on-one support, phone support, peer support, and education and training virtually.”

Before the coronavirus happened, the center was a busy place.

“Before COVID, over 450 children and their parents were attending our centers every two weeks,” Robinson said.

Since its founding, Imagine has had a huge impact on people’s lives.

“Families have told us Imagine has saved their lives and given them hope, coping tools and increased resiliency,” Robinson said. “We have provided education to schools on how to support grieving students in the classroom and have trained over 200 adult and teen volunteers who take what they have learned at Imagine and bring it into their personal lives whether at work, home or school. Kids in grief are kids at risk for depression, poor performance in school, suicide and substance abuse.

“We have heard from many families that Imagine has helped their children better manage their feelings and improve grades and communication,” she added.
Imagine has one goal in mind.

“The goal for this center is to intervene and prevent unhealthy ways of coping with loss and to foster resilience and emotional well-being for all those who grieve,” Robinson said. “Our goal is to help youth develop healthy coping skills and grow in their resiliency so they can cope with their current loss and any future life losses. Our vision is to one day ensure no child grieves alone.”

Photos Courtesy of Mary Robinson