A Conversation With Foundation VP Maria Collins

Note: Children’s Grief Awareness Day is this Thursday, November 17. In honor of the occasion, we’re sharing a Q&A with New York Life Foundation vice president Maria Collins, who oversees the Foundation’s work on behalf of grieving children and their families.

Q1) With Children’s Grief Awareness Day (November 17th) upon us, please tell us more about its mission and what this day represents for the bereavement field?

Children’s Grief Awareness Day (CGAD), started in 2008, is a day to raise awareness and build a conversation around the needs of grieving children to help ensure that no child grieves alone.

CGAD is observed on the third Thursday in November every year (the Thursday before Thanksgiving). The holiday season can be a challenging time for many, especially grieving children and families, yet this day underscores how we all can support and understand the needs of grieving children. This day focuses on several goals:

  • Encourage greater support of grieving children
  • Raise awareness of how grief impacts children and the benefits of grief support
  • Disseminate resources and information to increase knowledge about the topic
  • Raise the level of conversation to cultivate a more grief–sensitive culture.

Q2) What are some of the activities that you have planned for New York Life employees/agents in recognition of this day?

We are educating our employees and agents about the day, the issue, and resources through our internal communication channels in addition to our dedicated bereavement web site, achildingrief.com. We are also encouraging our employees, agents and partners to share information through their communication channels and to wear blue as a symbol of support.

As a life insurance company, we naturally have relationships with grieving families, and we seek to show our agents and employees the unique role they can play in their communities with respect to childhood grief support. We’ve been able to partner with our business lines to develop dedicated resources and training for our field force to support grieving families. We recently relaunched our beneficiary resource center that includes a state listing of bereavement resources, grief sensitivity training, information on direct social services, articles, books and other practical information for families who have experienced a death.

Q3) The Foundation has supported childhood bereavement since 2008 and this year marks a significant milestone as you will pass $30M in bereavement funding. As the largest corporate funder of this cause, please tell us about your giving strategy and the types of bereavement work you support.

In 2008, the Foundation made its first investment in a free bereavement camp for kids who have experienced the death of a loved one. It’s not only a good fit as a philanthropic strategy; it also aligns with our core business of life insurance. We’re proud that bereavement support has become a part of New York Life’s culture and an issue that our employees and agents embrace as their own. We have and will continue to make long–term investments to demonstrate our dedication and leadership with respect to this issue.

We developed a multi–faceted approach to deepen our investment in the field, allowing us to adapt and evolve as new needs and opportunities become evident. Currently, our strategy seeks to elevate the bereavement field by focusing on three main funding priorities: 1) Capacity building to raise nationwide awareness of – and concern for – the problem of childhood grief; 2) Direct service to provide support for direct programs and resources for grieving children and their families; 3) Research/evaluation measures to add value to the larger field by filling gaps and adding standard models of practice, protocols, metrics and assessments.

Q4) You recently concluded your Month of Service and bereavement was a key focus area for your employees. Please tell us a bit more about your Volunteers for Good program and what the bereavement cause means to your employees/agents?

We chose childhood bereavement as a strategic funding area in 2008 in part due to its strong alignment with our business and company. New York Life agents and employees recognize grief support as an issue that truly connects to our values and mission, and we are very fortunate to have a large number of committed, active company volunteers that continue to donate their time, talent and/or money to the cause. During our year–round Volunteers for Good program as well as our annual Month of Service and Season of Giving, our agents and employees dedicate thousands of hours to making a difference in their communities – including many initiatives around the country in support of grieving kids.

Q5) Since your initial involvement with this cause, the bereavement field has grown and evolved considerably, yet there is still more work to do to ensure that grieving children and their families have access to much needed support and resources. How would you like to see the bereavement field expand moving forward?

This is a very difficult question, because childhood bereavement is still a young field. Our goal is to continue to elevate the conversation and build awareness around this issue – underscoring that grief is an everyday issue, not a topic to only be addressed when there is a national tragedy. Childhood bereavement is often overlooked because it is a difficult topic for people to embrace. We will continue to collaborate with our partners to raise awareness and develop and promote resources that can positively support grieving children and their families – working toward the goal of letting no child grieve alone.