Volunteer Bradley Keats wears a light blue polo shirt and stands in front of a spring outdoor background

From Grieving Child to Supportive Volunteer: A Full Circle Journey

In 2010, at just ten years old, Bradley Keats found himself dealing with the death of his father. It was during this challenging time that he first encountered Hospice of the Piedmont’s (HOP) Kids’ Grief and Healing program. The program encouraged him to participate in activities designed to aid in the grieving process, such as creating memory books and building gingerbread houses, providing him with an outlet for his feelings.

Today, Bradley is a 23-year-old student taking online classes at Old Dominion University, pursuing a career as a counselor. His journey has come full circle as he volunteers with the very program that was a cornerstone in his own healing process.  “It’s kind of nostalgic to be back. It brings back a bunch of memories.”

Reconnecting With HOP

Bradley needed intern credit for one of his classes, so he reached out to Kacie Karafa, an Art Therapist and Manager of HOP’s Kids’ Grief and Healing Program. The program, which utilizes art therapy, among other creative outlets, helps children articulate and understand their grief.

Kacie has worked for HOP for more than twenty years. She recalls his early days in the program and celebrates the opportunity to reconnect. “Bradley was an active participant. Not afraid to be himself. He talked proudly about his Papa,” she says. “I’ve worked with so many kids over the years, and I don’t always know what happens to them later in life. It’s been so nice to reconnect with Bradley.”

After more than half his lifetime, Bradley was happy to reconnect with Kacie, too. “Once I heard her voice on the phone, I got an image of her in my head. And then, when I came in for the first time, I said, ‘I remember you.’ It was a really sweet moment.”

How HOP Helped

Bradley’s early experience with the program played a significant role in his decision to return. “Because I experienced loss so early in my life, I had a hard time identifying with other kids when I was younger. The Kids’ Grief and Healing program helped me understand that I wasn’t alone in going through grief at my age,” he explains.

As a grieving child, young Bradley Keats holds a pocket watch and wears a denim jacket.
As a child, Bradley participated in HOP’s Kids’ Grief and Healing group programs.

The program’s use of art therapy was particularly impactful for Bradley, allowing him a creative means to process his loss and envision a place of peace for his father.  “I remember drawing where I thought my Papa had gone. And I drew a picture of heaven. I remember telling people my Papa wanted a cloud with a view,” he shares with a smile.

Experiences like that helped him make sense of what had happened.  “It helped me process a lot of the feelings I was going through. I was able to think about him in a more positive way rather than simply being sad,” he explains.

Returning to Volunteer

Bradley volunteered to help with HOP’s Kids and Family Grief Support Series, which allows kids and their families to meet weekly over a structured six-week period. The series helps children engage in grief activities for kids, such as art projects, while adults connect with one another in their own support group.

Now, as a volunteer, Bradley sees the value in lending his firsthand experience to support others navigating their grief.  “I can understand their pain because I’ve experienced something similar,” he says.

For Bradley, volunteering is about more than just getting credit for another class. He draws inspiration from seeing children go through the transformative process. “It’s so rewarding to see a lot of the kids come out of their shells a bit and participate in more activities as the weeks have gone by,” he says.

Creating Space for More Kids

Bradley Keats’s full-circle journey from participant to volunteer underscores the importance of creating healing spaces for children in grief. We invite you to donate or volunteer to support this work.

Additionally, if you know a child or teen who has experienced the loss of a loved one, please let them know about the many programs our Kids’ Grief and Healing Program offers.