(WJTV) – Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be difficult at any age. For a child however, the grieving process can be especially challenging when a parent or sibling has passed.
Chantel Marsaw has been showing her community for years why “It Still Takes a Village” to help children cope with the pain of loss. WJTV honored her for her work two years ago and now she has expanded her program.
Seen at a table playing cards it appears to be all fun and games, but for Chantel Marsaw the games are a way of helping young people seated at a table with another game – the game of life. Life has not been particularly kind to the young people seated at the table. All of them have something in common – they have all lost a loved one. For many of them it has been a parent. Marsaw says, “So this program allows them to know that they haven’t been forgotten and the other children’s parents haven’t been forgotten and they can come together and just relate to one another.”
Two years ago WJTV first caught up with Marsaw when she was a WJTV Jefferson Award winner for her community service. At that time she had 150 students in the group she calls “It Still Takes a Village.” At the time Chantel’s group did not have a home. Now she operates out of a community center and her numbers have doubled, serving more than 300 students in the Natchez, Mississippi area.
“When I was in school I didn’t really have a support system when I was losing people,” she said. “You just lose someone and you go back to school and so that’s not good and so I was a troubled child. I was fighting a lot, just mean a lot of people didn’t know that because I was losing so many people.”
Now she is trying to fill a void and become a mother figure to many students who no longer have one.
Torian Johnson lost her mom in 2011. On a wall at the center she wrote how she feels about her mom, just one way the program is helping.
“Before the organization you never knew how many people have lost a parent or sibling or something like that and then you can understand there are other people like you. They feel how you feel and are in the same situation,” Johnson said. “It really helps you to open up more or not feel like nobody cares or nobody understands what you’re going through.”
In 2003 Keith Bradford also lost his mom and was going down the wrong path until he got into the program.
Says Bradford, “I was hanging out around the wrong crowd, but since Chantel knows my whole family they knew I lost my mama and they know how I felt about it so since she put me in this program I was like, ‘Hey, I need a turnaround, choose my positive friends,’ so I know which way to go so I can get out of high school and make something of my life.” And helping them all make something of their lives, and giving them support, is what It Still Takes a Village is all about.
Marsaw says, “What I want this building to be is a place they know is a stable foundation. They can always come here. We’re not trying to move on them. They won’t have to try to get used to going here or there, they can just come here.”
Students in the program range in age from 13 to 22, and 62-percent of them are now in college.