The ‘happiest sad place’

Erin's House eases kids' pain

Debbie Meyer, photography by Ellie Bogue

Debbie Meyer, photography by Ellie Bogue

One of the best things about Fort Wayne is how we band together to help those suffering or in need. One family, whose suffering came about because of the unexpected and unexplained death of their nearly 6-year-old daughter, used that suffering to create Erin’s House for Grieving Children.

It’s been 25 years since Erin Farragh died in her sleep. Her parents, David and Gail, were able to find grief support groups for adults, but nothing for Erin’s two siblings, Tony and Megan. Family friend Tracie Martin, a member of the Fort Wayne Junior League, founded Erin’s House for Grieving Children in 1993 to fill that need. The organization is now headed by Debbie Meyer and recently moved into new headquarters just off St. Joe Center Road near Maplecrest Road.

The new facility opened in October, just in time for the agency’s 20th anniversary.

“The staff designed the rooms,” Meyer said. “We wanted to be very interactive with the kids.”

Some 450 people come through the doors at Erin’s House over the course of a month, meeting every two weeks to help children process loss and sadness.

“Even at 3 or 4 years old, they know what’s going on,” Meyer said. Teens who have suffered a loss are harder to get in the door, but once they attend one session, “they’re usually hooked.”

Support groups give children a chance to understand what has happened to their loved ones, and parents are welcome to join an adult group that gives parents and other caregivers tools to help their grieving children. Services are funded by donations and there is no fee for any of its services.

“It just makes me so proud to live here,” Meyer said. “There are so many caring and kind individuals.”

Meyer is arguably one of those people. After a 20-year career at Lincoln Financial Group, Meyer attended Leadership Fort Wayne, where she realized there were many ways she could give back to the community. She spent time at Mad Anthony’s Children’s Hope House before joining Erin’s House six years ago.

“Even though I’d grown up in Fort Wayne, (I learned) there’s so much more I could be doing,” Meyer said. “I want to make a difference for somebody. I want to do whatever I can do to help.”

Meyer said watching children come through the doors of Erin’s House for the first time reinforces how important it is for children to have a place to begin putting together a “new normal.”

“They call this the ‘happiest sad place’,” she said. “Being here everyday makes you appreciate every day you have.”

First appeared in the AprilĀ 2014 issue of Fort Wayne Monthly.


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