Highmark Caring Place has helped more than 3,000 youths deal with loss |

Highmark Caring Place has helped more than 3,000 youths deal with loss

Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
The Highmark Caring Place manager Andrea Lurier hugs Steve Woods during the 'Tree of Growth' mural dedication ceremony, Downtown. The mural is dedicated to Woods, a retired Highmark Caring Place staff member.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Daniel LaVallee, 25, of Cranberry Township listens during the 'Tree of Growth' mural dedication ceremony at the Highmark Caring Place, Downtown. LaVallee, who lost his brother at age 6, designed the heart and butterfly logo during his time at the Caring Place as a child. LaVallee's was one of the first names on the original 'Tree of Growth' pictured behind him.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Retired Highmark Caring Place staff member Steve Woods talks about his experience working with grieving children during the 'Tree of Growth' mural dedication ceremony, Downtown. The original 'Tree of Growth' has over 3,000 names of children and teens who have attended the Highmark Caring Place. The dedication coincides with 'Children's Grief Awareness Day.'

Daniel LaVallee lived in fear when he was 6.

His older brother’s death left him “scared that all of my family was going to die, too,” said LaVallee, 25.

His brother, Josh Ilk, died from an accidental fall at 21. LaVallee found comfort in 1996 at The Highmark Caring Place, a Downtown organization his father, Charles LaVallee, founded to provide grief support for children and families.

“The Caring Place gave me hope that I could carry on,” said LaVallee of Cranberry. His name was one of the first on the Caring Place’s first Tree of Growth, a mural created in 1999 on which children’s names were placed once they completed the center’s grief program.

Because the tree’s leaves are filled with more than 3,000 children’s names, a second Tree of Growth was dedicated on Thursday.

The winter holidays can be a difficult time to cope with loss, said Terese Vorsheck, the Caring Place’s director and LaVallee’s stepmother.

Children are considered to have completed a Caring Place session once they have attended 10 meetings, during which they share their experiences with other children who have gone through loss. They can complete more than one session. Services are free.

“(The Caring Place) found a way to let these young people feel that it’s OK to laugh and smile again,” said Highmark Executive Vice President Dan Onorato, executive director of the nonprofit Caring Foundation, a Highmark affiliate.

LaVallee’s father, Charles LaVallee, is founder and former executive director of the Caring Place, which has locations in Erie, Harrisburg and Warrendale.

Statewide, 31 employees and about 700 volunteers work at Caring Place sites.

The Allegheny Health Network will help to expand Caring Place partnerships with hospitals, Onorato said.

Jefferson Regional Medical Center and the Caring Place are talking about starting a peer support program in the South Hills, Vorsheck said.

Of the Caring Place’s $4.5 million budget, Highmark provides about 85 percent. The rest comes from memorial donations and other sources, Vorsheck said.

Tory N. Parrish is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5662 or [email protected].

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