The term resilience is an area of the health field focusing on people coming back from adversity due to disease or trauma. The ability to bounce back from a setback defines those who are best able to adapt to life-changing events and emerge as whole as possible. Friends of Karen’s purpose is the essence of promoting resilience - helping every member of a family with a child undergoing treatment for a life threatening illness to remain stable, functioning and able to cope.

COVID-19 has challenged everyone to find a level of resilience they never had to access. At Friends of Karen, we have seen our families pushed to their limits as they take on the added burden of COVID-19’s far ranging consequences.

The pandemic has brought changes to how Friends of Karen delivers our services as we transitioned from in-person visits to remote visits. These COVID-19 challenges came with a silver lining as we discovered new opportunities to help our families cope and heal. Through this process, Friends of Karen’s talented, skilled and creative staff mined an even deeper level of resourcefulness that contributed to the resilience of our organization.

During the pandemic, our Family Support Program team identified that children and parents were feeling overwhelmed and stressed being at home all the time. So, in the summer of 2020, we initiated virtual Family Fun group meetups to provide a respite for parents and caregivers, while providing socialization, mindful engagement, diversion and fun for our Friends of Karen children and siblings.

While conducting the Family Fun group, our staff identified that the girls were struggling with self-esteem issues. In response, we developed a virtual six-week program called Connect and Create! Building Self Esteem Together. Connect and Create! will kick off this spring. The group will serve girls ages 11 to 16, who are most vulnerable to low self-esteem. The girls will have an opportunity to discuss how the illness affects them and their families; create art that encourages leadership, creativity and reflection; and participate in teambuilding activities and unique art therapy opportunities.

Our Family Support staff knew that it wasn’t just children that needed a special time to be together. Families who lost a child needed a place to gather too. Fortunately, the pandemic eliminated many barriers to getting families seeking mutual support due to the wide availability of virtual meeting technologies. In late 2020, Friends of Karen started two online bereavement groups for our English-speaking and Spanish-speaking parents who have lost a child. Both groups are fully enrolled, with 12 families participating in each group. We held our annual memorial service virtually for the first time, which increased access and participation.

Friends of Karen’s Family Support Program will continue to identify new ways to respond to our families’ needs that will help them build their resilience as they face an arduous disease journey and COVID-19.