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By: Amy J. Barry

Alexis and Kevin Lariviere build a Healing Hope Chest. (Robert Harrington)Alexis and Kevin Lariviere build a Healing Hope Chest. (Robert Harrington)Co-founders of the Healing Hope Chest project: at work: Robert (Woody) Wilkins, executive director of Dances With Wood; Alexis, Kevin, and Shari Lariviere. (Robert Harrington)Co-founders of the Healing Hope Chest project: at work: Robert (Woody) Wilkins, executive director of Dances With Wood; Alexis, Kevin, and Shari Lariviere. (Robert Harrington)What do we say in our house if someone cries?” asks Shari Lariviere.

“Better out than in!” responds Alexis, 12 and Kevin, 15.

When it comes to understanding the importance of expressing feelings of grief and loss, Shari, a teacher and accredited journey/guided meditation practitioner, has taught her children well. Together, they have created Healing Hope Chest kits to help anyone who is bereaved process their grief.

The project started in December 2012, the day after the tragic Newtown Elementary School shooting. Kevin and Alexis wanted to find a way to help the grief-stricken families, so they set up a little stand they called “The Wake Up Call” in their quiet neighborhood in Madison, Connecticut. They made enormous signs, posted it on Facebook, but never imagined they would raise over $450 in one day selling coffee, hot chocolate, and cookies.

They soon discovered that Newtown had been inundated with assistance and didn’t need more donations.

“We decided to make better use of the money, with that same idea of loss and grief,” Kevin says.

A step-by-step guidebook guides you in making the Hope Chest and also guides you on your grief journey. (Robert Harrington)A step-by-step guidebook guides you in making the Hope Chest and also guides you on your grief journey. (Robert Harrington)“We were going through that same process because our uncle had just passed away, Alexis adds. “We were in that sad phase, and wanted to help people because it’s really hard.”

They brainstormed ideas of what to do and just after New Year’s Eve, the Healing Hope Chest concept came to them in a flash.

For about five years Shari had worked on creative arts and empowerment programs —that Kevin and Alexis participated in—with Woody (Robert) Wilkins, executive director and founder of the nationwide program Dances With Wood (www.danceswithwood.org). Woody has designed and fabricated a variety of creative wood working projects that seriously ill children can build while sitting or lying in a hospital bed, which has proven to foster their healing process.

So, Kevin and Alexis thought, why not create a wood working project for kids and adults who have lost a loved one?

It was important to them that the project was designed for anyone going through grief, loss, and transition.

“It could be for a four-year-old who just lost his guinea pig or a 99-year-old who just lost his spouse,” Kevin points out.

The Healing Hope Chest kits include the fabricated wood pieces and hardware (provided by Woody) for a person to build the Hope Chest, which can then be filled with items that remind the bereaved of their loved one.

Guide to Help the Healing Process

A critical component of the kit is the Healing Hope Chest Guidebook that Shari and her kids wrote together as a team.

An angel (drawn by professional artist friend Sandra Thompson) guides you through the step-by-step process of physically building the chest—and the kit includes the gift of a wooden angel.

“If you want to decorate the box, there’s a planning sheet to plan our what you want to do and tips about decorating,” Kevin says. “So you can pretty much do whatever you want with the box. There’s not a set thing you have to do with it.”

But equally important as the construction of the chest, the angel continues to guide you through the grief journey.

“We created what we feel are powerful exercises that are short and do-able,” Shari says. “We did a lot of digging deep into our own experiences while we were creating this, working together.”

This includes an exercise for identifying and releasing one’s emotions when someone is feeling stuck in their grief; a relaxing guided meditation by Shari; drawing and journaling pages; suggestions for way to honor and cherish your loved one and your memories; and an enormous list of ways to lift one’s spirits, compiled by Kevin and Alexis.

“The iconic number when we started the list was 101, but we ended up with 111,” Shari explains. “It didn’t mean anything to us, but then we looked up the meanings of numbers and the number 111 came up and it said, ‘This is a magic number that means the angels are with you and everything is going to be OK!’”
“This is all stuff you can do when you’re feeling bad and can take your mind off it and relax you,” Kevin says. “The 111 is sort of a symbolic number that’s more spiritual.”

“We want this to be really interactive,” Shari stresses. “Not just a book you use to build the Hope Chest and tuck away. It’s supposed to be a lifelong resource.”
Alexis points out that the process of building the box would particularly appeal to older boys and men.

“They don’t cry because they don’t want people to know they’re hurt,” she says. “They have to be strong. Especially if you’re a father, you don’t want your kids to know you’re not the bravest. This helps any gender—building is fun for anybody, but especially men—they like to build and the building will help them through [their grief].

Shari says they’ve gotten good feedback that the Hope Chests are a useful tool for people experiencing grief and loss and are beginning to market it on a larger scale.

M.A.D.E (Make A Difference Entrepreneurs) wants to feature Kevin and Alexis in their 2015 web interview series. The organization brings together emerging young entrepreneurs, along with the mentorship of successful grown-up entrepreneurs.

“This is our first big exposure, so that’s exciting,” Shari says.

“My kids inspire me and the whole project has made our family even closer because we share something pretty intense,” Shari says. “My husband Dave and I are so proud of them and the fact that they’d give up the time to play and be with their friends to raise funds for a cause that they’re passionate about. Even Griffin (their 4-year-old brother) is talking about the Healing Hope Chest because it’s such a big part of our lives and family.”

You can purchase a Healing Hope Chest Kit for yourself or as a gift for a friend or family member online at www.healinghopechest.com. You will get everything you need to build a beautiful solid wood Healing Hope Chest and also receive an illustrated guidebook to help you on your journey. The cost is $50 plus tax and shipping.

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