- June 16, 2017
Diane Goldsmith grew up knowing she wanted to help people. As the Altamonte Springs resident went to school, married, had children and became a kindergarten teacher, her purpose was always clear — helping children.
Everything changed when her daughter, Rebecca, was killed by a drunken driver. As Goldsmith tried to console her daughter’s friends in the days that followed, the lifelong caretaker came to a sobering conclusion — she had nothing left to give.
“When you lose a child, you have nothing” Goldsmith said. “I’m a teacher, I’m a nurturer, but I had nothing for them. But I know they needed something that I didn’t have to give them.”
She took them to New Hope For Kids, a grief counseling nonprofit in Maitland that specializes in children who have lost their parents, or vice versa, hoping they could be helped through their loss. What Goldsmith didn’t expect from the visit, though, was to be helped herself. She was offered a spot in the organization helping other children who had lost friends and family. A year later, Goldsmith felt she was ready to join the nonprofit and started as a grief facilitator.
Nineteen years later, Goldsmith has been recognized for her work. The National Alliance For Grieving Children, a prominent grief counseling nonprofit organization, recently rewarded Goldsmith with a Founder’s Award for her years of service.
Although Goldsmith was used to counseling grieving children as a teacher, she learned a more passive way of getting them to open up about their trauma at New Hope for Kids.
“We’re not therapists; we don’t try to shrink them or talk,” Goldsmith said. “We just reflect what they do. We don’t advise them; we don’t ask them questions. But they know that they’re heard, and if they want to elaborate, the door is open for them.”
Rather than asking a child recreating his mother’s funeral with toys why he was placing the audience upside-down in the sand, for example, Goldsmith let the child continue with his design. Eventually, the boy told her he felt the audience didn’t want to look at the funeral — something she feels he wouldn’t have told her otherwise.
Something Goldsmith learned quickly at the Maitland center, which treats more than 300 children a year, is the silence that accompanies children who have lost their families. She said many of the children at New Hope for Kids worry they somehow will cause their parents more pain by acting happy and close themselves off.
At New Hope for Kids’ biweekly sessions, those children have an hour of free time during which they can play sports, make arts and crafts, play music and socialize with other partners. Goldsmith said its one of her favorite parts of her job.
“They just laugh,” Goldsmith said. “People ask me, ‘Is it depressing to be there?’ and I say, ‘You can’t even imagine — it’s so joyous.’ When you have someone new, who’s listening … all of a sudden, their face changes. They realize, ‘I belong here,’ and it changes their lives.”
Out of at least 90 grief facilitators at New Hope for Kids, Goldsmith said she’s certainly among the oldest — she even trains the new facilitators and leads tours. But her core routine — weekly sessions with the organization’s younger children — has stayed the same as she’s grown, moved to Altamonte Springs and retired.
The NAGC, which oversees more than 300 grief organizations nationally, recognized that routine when she was presented with the Founder’s Award, the national volunteer award, at the 22nd annual National Symposium on Children’s Grief in late June. Goldsmith and her husband, Jerry, also a grief facilitator at New Hope for Kids, were flown to San Antonio to accept the prize.
“They only give out two awards each year,” said David Joswick, executive director for New Hope for Kids. “These are really dynamic people they select. We were pleasantly surprised (when we nominated her). We felt she was a good candidate, and turns out, she was.”
Goldsmith said she didn’t expect to be awarded for doing something she loves (or the standing ovation that came with it), but she doesn’t mind.
“It’s fulfilling to me, it gives me a sense I’m doing something to help others,” she said. “To be rewarded for that is sort of strange.”
Many of the children she watched over throughout the years have returned to New Hope for Kids to be grief facilitators themselves — something she finds immensely gratifying.
Her work doesn’t fill the hole left by Rebecca but it helps others when they need it most. She is glad she found a way to use her tragedy to help others.
“It’s a part of me now,” Goldsmith said. “I’m honoring Rebecca. I’m carrying on to do good in the world, because I truly believe she’s the kind of person who would have done good in the world.”