A member of local animal rescue Mercy Full Project teaching Hand in Hand Grief Support’s elementary class about therapy pets. This is one of the many fun and helpful activities the support group holds for children going through grief.

On October 17, 2023, the nonprofit Patrick Wesley Wheeler Foundation was created and named in honor of a lost loved one to serve the bereaved and broken of our community. The date is special to founder and president Keisha Wheeler and her family, as it was the birthday of her husband, Patrick Wheeler.

“Myself, our children and several partners sought to honor Patrick’s legacy by continuing to minister in the margins to families that have lost a loved one,” she said.

Keisha pulls from her day-to-day experience of caring for her seven children after the loss of their father. In fact, her family had been attending a grief group and found it incredibly helpful, until it shut down. This inspired her to start the foundation and its first official program, Hand in Hand Grief Support for Families.

This in-person peer support group, together with faithful volunteers and donors, hosts grieving children and their caregivers as a labor of love. In Hand in Hand’s group sessions, members are first greeted and welcomed by each other, enjoy food and snacks and then split into different age-group classes: preschool, elementary, teens and caregivers.

“The goal of our group is to come alongside people on their grief journey … because it’s very isolating, especially with kids,” Keisha stated. “A lot of kids get right back into school, or wherever they have to go, and a lot of people think, ‘Oh, kids are resilient, you know, it doesn’t matter,’ but it really does affect the very world that they live in. They see that someone they love does not exist anymore.”

Hand in Hand honors the legacy of loved ones as well by focusing on their lives and how they impacted their family, rather than just talking about the loss. Additionally, the group does social-emotional activities to help children identify their emotions, validate them, connect those emotions with their grief and let them know they’re not alone.

“Grief group changed everything I thought I knew about the grief journey. Seeing the families, who have lost so much, traveling through it together is the purest example of strength I’ve ever seen. I feel truly lucky to be part of the group — it is my favorite part of the month,” said Courtney S., a volunteer.

Hand in Hand Grief Support serves families with children ages 3-18; a nursery is available. The group meets twice a month at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church at 3315 S. Bryan Rd. in Brandon. To learn more and get peer grief support, email intake@handinhandbrandon.org. You can also visit https://servingwith7.com/foundation-1 or follow on Facebook @thepatrickwesleywheelerfoundation. For volunteer or partnership opportunities, email pwheelslegacy@gmail.com.

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Taylor Wells
Taylor Wells is a relatively recently hired news reporter for the Osprey Observer, having been with the paper only since October 8, 2018. Aside from writing articles, he helps edit and upload them to the Osprey Observer site, and is always available to help other staff members in his spare time. He graduated from Saint Leo University with a bachelor’s degree in professional writing and lives in Valrico.