(This article was written by Beth Marie Cantu and appeared in the January issue of Explore Harlingen Magazine.)
In the close-knit community of the Rio Grande Valley (RGV), a compassionate non-profit organization shines as a ray of hope for those facing the difficult path of grief. Nestled near the Valley Baptist Medical Center, the Children's Bereavement Center (CBC) stands as a haven for both adolescents and families confronting the profound loss of a loved one.
Started by volunteers who recognized the need for grief support in our community, the CBC of Harlingen was established with the initial support and funding from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation. From its inception, licensed professional counselors and volunteers have been the cornerstone of the center's operation, embodying the spirit of community-driven, collaborative support. Since then, the CBC has expanded its reach to Hidalgo County, with a facility housed in McAllen at the First Presbyterian Church.
This non-profit organization is under the compassionate care of Ernest Espinoza, the executive director of CBC for the RGV. Espinoza, who was inaugurated into this role in May 2021, brings a deeply personal understanding of grief to his leadership. As a child of immigrants and having lost both parents at a young age, he recognizes the unique hurdles faced by those navigating loss without adequate support.
"The lack of support during the grieving process can pose massive challenges," Espinoza stated. "Through the Children’s Bereavement Center, we want to create a safe environment where [licensed professional] counselors guide children, teens, and families through the loss of a loved one.”
The CBC's mission is to provide compassionate professional counseling for individuals aged 3 to 24 and their families who have lost a loved one, a testament to the belief that no one should endure the grieving process alone.
"We want the community to realize that there is support available," emphasized Espinoza.
With a dedicated team of counselors and volunteers, CBC offers an array of programs and services tailored to the unique needs of grieving families. These programs foster healing through various therapeutic activities, group sessions, and personalized counseling, all designed to aid in the emotional recovery process. Beyond regular sessions, the CBC organizes grief day camps during the spring, fall, and summer.
Local schools in the RGV have reached out to the CBC, expressing interest in supporting students through their grief journey. "Recently, there was a meeting held by Region One, where superintendents from every school system attended," Espinoza shared. "We were able to get on their agenda and present about the CBC, and it opened doors for us big time, I think. It was like a massive breakthrough for us. Following that meeting, I received numerous emails from different ISDs wanting us to do presentations and trainings for their counselors.”
While services for families are provided for free, the CBC sustains its non-profit operations through these professional training sessions and presentations, which incur a fee. This funding mechanism enables the CBC to continue its mission. Approximately 35% of the non-profit's income is derived from trainings, fundraisers, and community donations, while the remaining funds are obtained through grants, highlighting the substantial financial commitment required to provide essential grief support services.
Additionally, the CBC collaborates with funeral homes, hospice care facilities, and local police authorities to offer comprehensive support to grieving families and children. "There was a study that said 1 in 16 children in the RGV are dealing with the loss of a loved one, which means there are about 32,000 children in the Valley in need of grief support," shares Espinoza, underscoring the pressing need for accessible support systems through this staggering statistic.
Despite the waitlist for services, Espinoza encourages individuals to reach out, emphasizing that no one should navigate grief alone. “Grief is a journey,” reflects Espinoza. “We have to experience that journey throughout life, and what the [CBC] aims is to help our community foster healing.”
For more information about the Children's Bereavement Center of the Rio Grande Valley and its programs, or if you are interested in volunteering, call them at 956-368-4065 or visit their website, www.cbc-rgv.org.