June 3-9, 2004
Pots of Gold
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Rainbows for Children Program Offers Help After Parents’ Divorce
Rainbows for Children, a highly acclaimed international, interdenominational program developed to assist school-aged children of separated and divorced parents, has come to the Syracuse area. The organization offers support in a group setting to individuals who are grieving a death, divorce or any other painful transition in their family. The objective of Rainbows is to assist children in understanding a new or changed family unit in building a stronger sense of self-esteem and by directing them toward a healthy resolution of the changes that take place in their personal lives. For the third year, the 10-week Rainbows workshop will teach children to function in a changing family atmosphere and to seek support from peers and trained facilitators. The free workshop is open to children ages four to 14 and includes activities that encourage conversation, boost self esteem, identify the feelings the children are struggling with and teach ways for the children to communicate with their parents. Some of the topics include the following: feelings, grief, change, fears, endings and beginnings, stepfamilies, and reaching out.
Theresa Harris, a divorced mother and parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in Cicero, is the coordinator of Rainbows and serves on its board of directors. She said that the program is a valuable tool for children who struggle with guilt, grief and anger. “The program is more in-depth than a Banana Splits Program offered in schools,” said Harris. Banana Splits is a peer support group where children from the same grade level eat lunch together, play games, and talk during the normal school day. “Rainbows offers children a neutral territory and protects the privacy of the family and child because they are out of their normal circle of peers,” explained Harris. Don Harting, the registered director of Rainbows, agreed. “When you do the math and realize how many marriages in Onondaga County end in divorce and how many of those marriages involve children, you begin to realize how big those numbers are,” said Harting. “And only a fraction of those children are being served by Banana Splits because some schools don’t offer a Banana Splits support group, or the classes are full.” Harting also said that Banana Splits is not offered during the summer as is Rainbows. “Summer can be a stressful time for a divorced family,” he said “In the summer the problems of child care come to the forefront. We found that summer is a great time to offer Rainbows.”
Harris said that trained volunteer facilitators who run the one-hour weekly workshops are compassionate, caring and understanding. “The facilitators find it a very rewarding experience because they make a difference with these children,” said Harris. “They see a change in them from the first week to the tenth week.” Harris welcomes volunteer facilitators but is firm in her requirement that those who volunteer must be committed. “These children have experienced so many disappointments in their lives,” said Harris. “We ask the facilitators that unless they are hospitalized, please come to class. We don’t want the children to experience another letdown.” Pat Ennis, coordinator for separated and divorced ministry for the Syracuse Diocese, has wanted to bring Rainbows to Syracuse for several years. Ennis is one of the first members of the task force that gathered in 1999 to begin planning to bring the program to the area. “We saw a need for a support group for children of separated and divorced people and called a meeting,” said Ennis. “It became a joint effort between Don and the people he had lined up and us.”
Jennifer Abbott, a divorced mother of two, enrolled her daughters into the program last summer. “It helped them become more accepting of their situation with our family,” said Abbott. “They became more open about it.” Abbott said that her daughter was very uncomfortable going to Banana Splits because she felt singled out in school. Attending Rainbows taught the children that it was okay to have mixed feelings. “My ex-husband was engaged at that point,” said Abbott. “When the wedding date was set, my daughters were concerned and confused. Rainbows helped us get through that.” “The biggest mistake parents can make is to assume a child is okay with a divorce just because the child is not acting out,” said Harris. “Sooner or later the child is going to move through the stages of grief and loss –– either as a child or as an adult. If they wait until they are an adult, it can happen in their own marriages or relationships.” Ennis agreed. “People need to be aware of the fact that their children are hurting,” she said. “Because the adults are hurting so badly, they can’t help their children.”
Harris said it’s important for children to have a model of what a healthy relationship is like. “Children who have gone through the program not only become more confident, but they know what’s fair and what’s not fair –– what’s right and what’s wrong in the dynamics of a relationship,” she said. Harris explained that when children learn to share their feelings, they can work toward amicable relationships with their parents, siblings and stepfamilies. Ennis said oftentimes grandparents call looking for help for their grandchildren. Ennis would like grandparents, aunts, uncles, or neighbors to spread the word about the program. “If they are not in need of it themselves, they may know of someone who is,” she said.
Currently there is only one Rainbows program in the Syracuse area. Harting said that his group would welcome the opportunity to expand the program if adults come forward to help as facilitators and site coordinators. Harting also holds informational meetings about the program.
To register for the summer workshop or to obtain additional information about Rainbows for Children, call Don Harting at (315) 622-2077 or Theresa Harris at (315) 699-6644.