In 2004, Sarah Schwartz, a counselor at Warrensburg Middle School (WMS) at the time, attended a presentation by Janie Ewell, the founder of Kansas City’s Solace House. Sarah learned that Solace House was (and still is) a grief counseling center specifically designed to guide children and their families through the pivotal time following the death of a loved one. At Solace House, families found age-specific support groups where participants were encouraged to share their stories with the help of group facilitators.
Sarah began dreaming of such a place in Warrensburg. She had a passion for helping the middle school students with whom she worked and she realized that there were WMS students who could truly benefit from a grief support program. She shared her dream with the WMS principal, another WMS counselor and the WMS social worker. Together, they created a space at WMS where staff could invite students to process the loss of a loved one in a safe setting.
When Sarah retired from the public school system, her dream grew to include not only a place for grieving middle school students to heal, but also for all grieving children ages 3 through 18 and their families. Sarah’s devoted husband, Robert Schwartz encouraged Sarah to pursue her dream and even suggested a name for the new organization: Bittersweet Place – a name which came from a passage in a C.S. Lewis book “… and it was fall and the Bittersweet was in full bloom.”
Since those early days, Bittersweet Place has gained the status of a 501(c)3 tax-exempt entity. It has also received start-up funding from Catholic Charities, Secunda Study Club, WAFB Spouses Clubs, memorial donations and two wine and art auction fundraisers. Both Christ Episcopal Church and Bethlehem Lutheran Church have granted the organization meeting space.
The first session of Bittersweet Place was held in early 2007. Since that time, either eight-week and ten-week sessions have been held each fall and winter. During the summer of 2010, a summer day camp was added to the schedule. Bittersweet Place welcomes all grieving children and their families regardless of race/origin, religion, or sexual orientation.
The program is free and available to children in Warrensburg and the surrounding area. Volunteer facilitators are recruited from the community and receive training from Solace House in Kansas City and faculty from the University of Central Missouri, as well as “on-the-job training” from seasoned, compassionate Bittersweet Place facilitators.