Creating Grief Ambassadors: New York Life and First Book
Recognizing the critical need to provide greater support to grieving children and their families, the New York Life Foundation established childhood bereavement as a funding focus area in 2008 and has invested nearly $50 million to bereavement organizations across the nation. The Foundation has served not only as a funder but as an active partner to a wide range of nonprofits, helping to raise public awareness about grief’s impact as well as build communication and collaboration among grantees. The Foundation also encourages and facilitates the involvement of employees and agents of New York Life through its Volunteers for Good and Grief-Sensitive Schools programs.
Educators are increasingly called upon to support students not just academically, but socially and emotionally, particularly when they have experienced grief or trauma. In a 2012 survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers and the New York Life Foundation, 92% of educators stated that grief was a serious problem that deserves more attention.
Educators play a pivotal role in the lives of their students, especially during times of grief. Well-crafted and curated books help students build resiliency, offer comfort and validation, introduce coping techniques, help guide conversations about grief and loss and can provide an escape for bereaved children. Books can help educators feel prepared to support the lives of the kids and families they serve, even in the toughest of times. In September 2018, the New York Life Foundation and First Book announced a two-year partnership seeking to increase access to bereavement books and resources among educators in underserved communities.
The partnership pairs the New York Life Foundation’s longstanding work in the childhood bereavement field with First Book’s extensive network and experience with educators serving underserved communities over the past 25 years.
The partnership has three main goals:
- Equip educators and program leaders with expanded books and resources to support grieving students
- Provide “Rapid Response” and “Community Care” gift credits to communities experiencing loss and acute bereavement situations
- Expand the reach of both the New York Life Foundation and First Book to share resources and funding opportunities with those serving kids in need
To bring all of this to life, First Book and the New York Life Foundation took a two-pronged approach: disaster preparedness and disaster relief, defining “disaster” in terms of man-made disasters such as mass shootings and school shootings and the inevitability of loss and the bereavement process that ensues.
While many educators are already working with bereaved students, this partnership aims to educate and prepare staff ahead of man-made disasters and/or other daily grievances. To this end, the partnership involves three main elements:
- The Grief, Loss, and Healing Section of the First Book Marketplace – In order to provide as many relevant and timely titles as possible, the New York Life Foundation helped First Book with an inventory purchase of new titles centered around grief, loss, and healing. 23 new titles were added to the re-launched site. Recipients of NYLF funding are encouraged to shop this section of the First Book Marketplace.
- Development of three age-appropriate discussion guides to equip educators to support students experiencing grief and loss – More than 90% of First Book member educators responding to a survey in 2016 indicated they lacked age-appropriate, relevant books and resources to address issues affecting their students, including childhood bereavement. First Book and the New York Life Foundation have created research-informed age-appropriate discussion guides for elementary, middle, and high school-age children experiencing grief, loss, and healing.
- Grief Sensitive Schools Initiative (GSSI) – Welcome Package of Books and Resources – After each GSSI presentation, New York Life Agents offer their school contacts the opportunity to receive 4-5 age-appropriate titles focusing on grief, loss, and healing from First Book. The Agents can either hand-deliver the books to their point of contact, thus deepening community ties, or the books can be shipped directly to the school from First Book along with a welcome letter and additional list of free resources.
First Book and the New York Life Foundation aim to provide relief to communities who often do not have the necessary resources on hand to work through trying times. This partnership offers two avenues for affected communities to receive additional funding to put toward books and resources.
- Community Care Credits: In the wake of acute bereavement situations, such as the death of a teacher or student, educators can request grants between $100 and $2,000 dollars depending on how many students they serve.
- Rapid Response: In the wake of mass shootings or other large-scale community tragedies, First Book and the New York Life Foundation quickly mobilize to send messages of support and funding opportunities to First Book Members in the affected community. The aim is to get books into the hands of educators, counselors, psychologists, etc. as soon as possible so that they can begin using them with their affected students.
New York Life workforce members serve as GSSI ambassadors to personally introduce this initiative to local schools and provide grants to those that strive to become more grief sensitive. Since the program was piloted in 2016, over 2,000 GSSI presentations have been completed in local schools in 47 states. Each school that agreed to strive to become grief sensitive received a $500 award to support their efforts and to date, nearly $1 million has been awarded under this initiative.
Over 80% of New York Life GSSI Ambassadors who completed a post-presentation survey agreed that the GSSI program provided a valuable opportunity to build new relationships. 85% of NYL ambassadors who completed the post-presentation survey agreed that being part of the GSSI program allowed them to build a closer relationship with their local community.
Over 6,200 books have been ordered for Grief Sensitive Schools to help with disaster preparedness and 704 schools have received packages containing 4-5 age-appropriate books. To date, there have been 30 Community Care Credit requests and 43 Rapid Response requests from over 30 communities nationwide.
Rapid Response support has been deployed in the wake of several notable mass shootings, including Pittsburgh, El Paso, Dayton, and Santa Clarita.
The discussion guides have been downloaded over 1,990 times. Since December 2018, over $30,000 have been distributed for 37 rapid response grants. Over $7,000 has been distributed in Community Care Credits to over 27 recipients. In total, 6,036 books and resources have been distributed in just over a year for these two disaster response programs.