DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — Oak Tree Corner in Oakwood offers a common space of understanding for any child who’s dealing with a significant loss. 

The nonprofit has been in existence since 1996, serving children three to 18 years old. 

“It is a huge need here. We serve it. We’re always happy to serve it. But it is always tragic what we do,” says Executive Director Vicki Braun, who lost her own mom when she was ten years old.  

Serving about 120 families a year, they help them deal with grief and cope with the loss of someone important to them. 

“My dad died when I was four. And then close to my birthday, my grandpa died,” says eight-year-old AJ Hammond. 

At Oak Tree Corner, children know they’re not alone. 

“[AJ] gets that understanding here with people that he’s comfortable with,” says Carla Hammond, AJ’s mother. “This is where he feels grounded.” 

Knowing grief isn’t one-size-fits-all, Oak Tree Corner Program Director Amber Otis plans different activities in different rooms for different ways of dealing.

“We have snowball fights. We have these really fun soft snowballs that we throw,” describes Otis.  “If they need a calming activity, we have play dough and games.”

“It’s a lot of play. It’s structured play. But it’s not therapy. We’re not therapists. It’s support,” states Braun.

“We have a lot of fun here. I know that sounds weird. We have a lot of fun in our grief groups,” says Otis.

Otis lost her fiancé just two weeks before her wedding. She came to Oak Tree Corner more than 20 years ago to help others dealing with grief.  

“I had some people who helped me through that, and I wanted to be able to help kids through this,” states Otis.  “If you’ve experienced a death yourself, then you understand somewhat what someone else is going through.” 

Oak Tree Corner also provides children with a space to get out their feelings. 

“That’s our grief cave. There’s a black-light in there. We have fluorescent markers. And the kids can go in there and write a message to the person that died on the wall,” describes Otis.

Just as much as it is for the kids, the nonprofit is also a resource for parents.

“Parenting with grief really doesn’t have a handbook. And so, hearing how other people—and also hearing our similarities—we went through that, this is how we did it, this helped us—kind of stories have helped me also deal with grieving and parenting through that,” says Carla Hammond.  

They say the holidays can be especially hard on someone who’s experienced loss. 

“When we ask, there’s only one thing they want for Christmas–and that’s for the person who died to be back,” says Braun.

“During this time of year, children don’t have a place to go where everybody gets it. We hear that very often. ‘When I come here everybody gets it. They know what I’m going through. They know my holiday isn’t so happy.’ Many families struggle and put up a tree and do the Christmas stuff or the Hannukah stuff or the Kwanza stuff. They do whatever is culturally required, but their hearts aren’t in it. And the kids can feel that,” says Braun. “And we serve children whose siblings have died. So when there’s been a baby who’s died, or a teenage brother in an accident, that’s extra, extra hard for the parents, and the kids can come here and talk freely with other kids who are going through this, and not be alone, and feel like somebody else knows what it’s like to not be so merry.”

Sharing in each other’s stories, they all come to Oak Tree Corner for a chance to heal. 

Oak Tree Corner is free and is supported by the community. Meetings are held at the facility on Far Hills Avenue on Wednesdays starting at 6 p.m.