Thorpe’s legacy lives on at Rick’s Place

Rick’s Place includes a book borrowing program consisting of titles such as “When Dinosaurs Die,” “Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories,” and “Badger’s Parting Gifts,” which are designed to help children learn to cope with loss.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza
Sept. 5, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM — Ten years ago this Sept. 11, Wilbraham lost one of its native sons in the terrorist attacks that shook the nation to its core.

Rick Thorpe, an alumnus of member of Minnechaug Regional High School’s 1984 class, lost his life in Tower Two of the World Trade Center in New York City, leaving behind, among others, his wife Linda and daughter Alexis.

But through tragedy has come a legacy that offers hope for many others, thanks to Rick’s Place Inc.

In addition to scholarship awards to deserving Minnechaug graduates, courtesy of the Rick Thorpe Memorial Fund, area children who are grieving or were otherwise affected by tragedy now have a place to go to feel safe and get help coping.

That place is Rick’s Place, which first opened its doors in 2007 as a new initiative of the Rick Thorpe Memorial Fund, fulfilling a unique need as one of the few sanctuaries for children dealing with loss and grief.

“Rick’s Place is unique in that we are one of only two programs in Western Massachusetts working with grieving children in a small group setting. All other grief support services target adults,” Shelly Bathe Lenn, executive director of Rick’s Place, explained. “Rick’s Place works with families and their young children (5 to 18 years) who have experienced the death of a close family member. Our focus is supporting the grieving child/children while also offering support for the surviving adults. In these separate groups caregivers will learn how to support their grieving children while also having time to share and explore their own challenges with grief.”

When Rick’s Place first opened, it served six children. Nearly five years later, it is an independent non-profit organization “serving not only children and families of Wilbraham, but throughout Greater Springfield,” Lenn said. All told, Rick’s Place helped 431 children on site and through local school systems during the 2010-2011 school year.

“Last year we worked with 25 children on-site and 406 students in six different schools. In our school-based bereavement support program we conduct eight-week long groups with students remembering someone close in their life,” Lenn said. “Grieving students from all grade levels meet once a week to participate in discussions, games and art activities. The six schools included those from Springfield, West Springfield and Chicopee.”

Also, the organization moved into its first permanent location at 35 Post Office Park in the summer of 2010 after spending its early existence sharing the common room of that building.

With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaching, Lenn said marking those moments help in the healing process and should be encouraged.

“Commemorating those in our lives who have died is very important, especially for children,” Lenn said. “While it can certainly raise up ‘big feelings,’ it can also help folks remember the relationship they had with the person who died and for young children it can help them further understand what death means, that it is final and universal.”

Services such as the ones Rick’s Place offers are more important than ever during this time, she added.

“We help families find ways, whether private or public, indoors or outdoors, to remember their special person,” Lenn said. “In our program we commemorate all the people that families come to remember at each gathering. At our opening circle we each say our names, and who we are remembering; and then a candle is lit in memory of everyone. We also include Rick Thorpe.”

Rick’s Place will be present at the 9/11 memorial service at St. Cecilia’s church at 6:30 p.m., giving attendees the opportunity to learn more about its programs.

Rick’s Place’s services are free, and as a non-profit organization, it relies on donations to continue its work. The Rick Thorpe Memorial Fund Golf Tournament, as well as the annual Heart to Heart fund-raiser are two of the group’s major sources of funding and Lenn said support for the program continues to grow.

“There is no charge to participate in Rick’s Place, whether on-site or at a school. But it is a not a free program to run and Rick’s Place raises funds for these programs in various ways,” Lenn said. “Our signature event is called Heart to Heart. This year we held our third annual Heart to Heart at the Ludlow Country Club and 180 people were in attendance. This number is an increase from 60 people who attended our inaugural Heart to Heart in 2009. No doubt that our next Heart to Heart, scheduled for Feb. 11, 2012, will be even bigger.”

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Thorpe’s parents, Marilyn and Ray, were contacted for this story, but were unable to comment as of press time due to utility interruptions associated with Hurricane Irene.

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