Offering a healing path for bereaved adolescents.

Stacey Sassine, One Million Monarchs

In late 2019, I fulfilled my mom’s lifelong dream of publishing a children’s book that she had written to help her 6-year-old godson understand his father’s untimely death. The book, “Caterpillars Can’t Talk: A Children’s Story About Love, Loss, and Transformation,” was lovingly published by me 30 years after my mother’s death. In the process of publishing the book, my publisher encouraged me to leverage the book to help other children suffering the loss of a parent. I began researching children’s grief organizations and was stunned to learn that there are very few organizations supporting children’s grief — and literally NONE in McHenry County dedicated to this type of loss.

I founded One Million Monarchs in January 2020 to address the issue of childhood bereavement, or the loss of a significant person in a child’s life such as a parent or sibling. The death of a close loved one has been noted to be one of the most disruptive and derailing childhood experiences. One in 14 children in the U.S. will experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18. One Million Monarchs offers a healing path for bereaved adolescents by encouraging expression and offering engaging programs that foster personal growth. The mission behind One Million Monarchs is a very personal one as I lost my own mom at the age of 16. When my mom died, I found there weren’t many resources to support me or my family beyond the funeral home. Sadly, there still aren’t.

I focus on teenagers because I know from experience how difficult it was to navigate grief during the teen years. The reality of teen grief is it’s complicated. It creates what is called grief-related adversity, which can cause disrupted development including mental health concerns, relationship difficulties, academic problems, reduced resilience and self-esteem, and even early mortality. To combat these unhealthy outcomes, One Million Monarchs seeks to apply grief care protective factors, which include a caring community, positive role models, healthy coping skills, peer support, and encouraging educators, enabling bereaved teens to continue to thrive beyond the loss of their loved one. One Million Monarchs serves teens ages 13-19, providing peer support groups, counseling sponsorships, scholarships, and support resources for parents of grieving teens.

Three months after I founded One Million Monarchs, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. My dreams of launching in-person programming were shattered and I had to switch gears. I did so by buckling down online and learning everything I could about the resources and nonprofit partners present in our county. I quickly met Brenda Napholz at The Break Teen Center and she invited me to a “masked meeting” at The Break. Brenda was a wealth of information, having founded The Break on her own several years prior. She urged me to learn about The Community Foundation for McHenry County and to see if I might qualify for one of their grants to help me get One Million Monarchs off the ground.

Initially, it was the funding opportunities that drew me to The Foundation, but as I began to better understand their mission, I learned what an amazing resource it can be. Their renovated facility is the perfect haven for a nonprofit like One Million Monarchs that doesn’t own a physical location. I’ve been welcomed with open arms each time I’ve used the space. It seemed everyone I met from that point on in the nonprofit sector had wonderful things to say about The Foundation and how it helps nonprofits achieve their mission. I applied for a Mission Grant in 2022. I was not awarded the grant at that time, but I was encouraged to continue applying in the future. In 2022, One Million Monarchs was awarded a Transformational Grant of $60,800 for our project: Supporting Grieving Teens in McHenry County.

This grant is allowing us to expand counseling services, group and parental support groups, and grief retreats. The grant awarded by The Foundation will allow One Million Monarchs to continue offering these services at no cost to our participants. As a result, we plan to grow our program by 30 participants, increase our counseling sponsorship from six paid sessions to 24, start up a Parenting through Grief support group, and meet demand by launching a second Teen Grief Support Group. We are already well on our way, having served an additional 23 participants since the grant period began.

Without a doubt, One Million Monarchs is better equipped to serve McHenry County teenagers thanks to the grant from The Foundation. We are a small, volunteer-run organization. We do not have a full-time fundraiser or event planner. It’s basically just me with my hands in every aspect of the organization. Every minute of my time is an investment. When I’m planning events or running fundraising campaigns, something else is bound to suffer. I didn’t want to lose the human touch element to our programs, which is what I believe makes them so effective. The Foundation’s grant has allowed me to focus on what my passion is — the teens and the families we serve.

The investments The Foundation has made through grants like the Mission Grant and Transformational Grant have made programs possible that may not have otherwise come to fruition. I am a member of the Youth Empowerment Alliance and I know that most of the organizations in the Alliance have been touched at some point by The Foundation. That touch has allowed them to grow and flourish in our community. I am grateful that One Million Monarchs was chosen as a worthy investment. When you support The Community Foundation for McHenry County, you can be certain your donation will be thoughtfully and carefully directed toward an organization poised to make a difference in our community.

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