New Hope@Home™ Groups Coordinator Allie Jones always knew she wanted to be some sort of first responder. In college, she did patrol ride-alongs in preparation to become a police officer and also explored a career in the Coast Guard. But, as soon as she heard about Child Life Specialists, that was it.
With a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, a master’s degree in Human Services Counseling, and a Child Life certification, Allie’s background perfectly complements the services offered by IoH. Growing up in Colorado Springs, attending college in Arkansas, and with stints in Nashville and Chicago as well, Allie has a wide variety of experience in several settings. Now, Allie, her husband and their two children make their home in Illinois.
Working on both pediatric oncology wards and in adult hospital settings gave Allie perspective on how best to help hurting families. Now, she is a first responder of a different sort–the one who might first hear a family’s good news or bad, their fears or hopes, and the trials of raising children while living with a terminal illness.
“There are so many people that run away from crisis, but IoH runs towards it. That’s how I feel. I want to run towards and honor whatever people need in that moment,” she explains. Allie has encouraged legacy building as well as supported loved ones saying goodbye. Sometimes that means active engagement and helping families to process, and sometimes that means respecting and protecting privacy.
Allie vividly remembers the first time she helped a child honor the loss of their parent, “I helped him reflect back on how special his mom was, how she played such a significant and powerful role in his life, and how that bond would always remain. There was something very sacred in that moment saying goodbye.” She readily acknowledges that there doesn’t seem to be much hope in a situation like that, but Allie sees her job as to help others find it, and seek comfort in the midst of sorrow through therapeutic relationships–even in the face of death and grief.
Allie came to IoH in a roundabout way. Her husband teaches at Wheaton College, and when one of his students lost her father, he pulled up the obituary. Noticing that memorial donations were directed to IoH, he and Allie were curious. “We spent hours that night watching IoH videos with tears in our eyes,” she remembers. It wasn’t long before Allie plugged in as a volunteer on the weekly kids’ Hope@Home™ Group.
She immediately saw the value and connections IoH brings into difficult situations. “We were sharing things we love, and one of the kids showed off a quilt of her dad’s T-shirts,” she recalls. “He was the terminally ill parent in their family. Another child in the group said she wanted to do the same, and I instantly saw why these groups exist. They give kids connections that no one else can get and they share ideas of how to honor legacies.”
As our Hope@Home™ Groups Coordinator, Allie develops resources and curriculum, equips and empowers our groups facilitators, and makes connections for families as needed. She encourages any family facing the loss of a parent due to life-threatening illness to give us a shot. It’s just one hour a week, low commitment but high gain, she explains. “You will experience that connection with people instantly. This is a community of people who truly do get it and inspire hope.”
IoH plans to expand beyond the current 14 groups, and Allie is looking for new facilitators. Who would make a good one? “Anyone who is eager to compassionately listen, make connections, bring back commonalities, and gently encourage the hope that we all have,” she claims. “We need a diversity of ethnicities, ages, experiences, and personalities. Everyone has a seat at the table, and the most important trait is the ability to be present.”
Speaking of being present, one of the best things about IoH groups is just that. Allie gives the example of how during the holidays, members of the Life After Loss group texted each other that getting out decorations was especially hard. “You can share what you are feeling, and immediately, people see you and know you.” And that’s what IoH is all about.