The Power to Heal: A Major Childhood Bereavement Funder Embraces the Arts

Back in 2014 we published a post entitled "Dept. of Obscure Yet Crucial Funding Niches: Helping Grieving Children.It looked at the New York Life Foundation's valuable work in the small but critical area of childhood bereavement. As we noted at the time:

Grief is one of the most difficult emotions for adults to work through. For children, the process can be even more confusing and overwhelming, with lifetime consequences if feelings are not acknowledged and resolved. The New York Life Foundation is one of the few donors thinking about this issue.

We're happy to report that the foundation has made substantial progress in the last 18 or so months.

In February the foundation made a major grantmaking milestone in support of childhood bereavement, passing the $25 million mark for supporting grieving children and their families. (The grant that pushed foundation over this milestone was a $3 million commitment to the Boys and Girls Club of America.)

But as Heather Nesle, president of the New York Life Foundation, said in a press release at the time, "Despite its prevalence and poignancy, childhood bereavement is still considered a 'niche' funding area." In other words, more work needs to be done. So how can the foundation help to shed this limiting "niche' funding label?

For an answer we turn to a new partnership between the foundation and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support students with exceptional artistic and literary talent, to help creative teens express their grief through the healing power of the arts.

This new partnership, funded by the New York Life Foundation, will provide creative services and support for bereaved teens in grades 7 through 12, a time when access to special programs that foster healthy social and emotional development is critical. The partnership is built on two main pillars:

  • Scholarships: As part of the 2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, students will have the opportunity to enter their work for the New York Life Foundation Award. Six $1,000 scholarships will be presented to students whose work exemplifies how the arts can act as a positive outlet to cope with several kinds of loss, such as the death of a loved one or the displacement of a caregiver, and whose work raises public awareness of the issue of youth bereavement. 
  • Free Workshops: Teens across the U.S. will gain access to free bereavement-focused art and writing workshops conducted by specially-trained educators. Through training in a range of artistic media, including drawing and poetry, teens will connect with a network of fellow artists and writers who have experienced similar life experiences. Click here for a list of upcoming workshops.

Add it all up at the foundation's support for the alliance underscores a bold investment the arts. Indeed, at a time when certain grantmakers question the relative value of the arts and arts education, the give sends a powerful message. 

"The arts," according to Virginia McEnerney, executive director of the alliance, "create a community in which teens can explore what they feel in a safe, life-affirming manner when grappling with topics that are sometimes considered taboo, such as trauma or loss.

"We feel confident that New York Life Foundation's knowledge of and commitment to the resiliency of our youth, combined with the Alliance's extensive outreach to teens in all 50 states, can honor the bravery of students who turn to the arts to heal from personal loss."