Hamilton school counselor honored for helping kids grieve for relatives lost to coronavirus, other causes

Hamilton Schools Counselor John Connell was honored this week for his work in helping students at Crawford Elementary deal with grieving over relatives dying from coronavirus and from other causes. From left to right: Sheila Munafo Kanoza, executive director & founder of Companions on a Journey; John Connell, 2020 Hope, Strength and Healing Award Recipient and Aaron Hopkins, Crawford Woods Elementary principal holds proclamation from Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller honor Connell. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)
Hamilton Schools Counselor John Connell was honored this week for his work in helping students at Crawford Elementary deal with grieving over relatives dying from coronavirus and from other causes. From left to right: Sheila Munafo Kanoza, executive director & founder of Companions on a Journey; John Connell, 2020 Hope, Strength and Healing Award Recipient and Aaron Hopkins, Crawford Woods Elementary principal holds proclamation from Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller honor Connell. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)

Students dealing with grief over the loss of loved ones ― and other life challenges ― is hard and made even harder during this time of the novel coronavirus.

November is National Children’s Grief Awareness Month and a Hamilton Schools’ counselor has won a regional honor for his work in reaching out to support students.

The West Chester Twp.-based Companions on a Journey Grief Support (COJ) offers support to anyone who has suffered the death of a loved one and recognizes front-line school staffers who are closest to children on a school-day basis.

One of this year’s winners of the Hope, Strength and Healing Award, which honors area individuals who have partnered with COJ to offer an “extraordinary gift of time and resources to support individuals throughout their grieving process,” is John Connell, a counselor at Crawford Woods Elementary.

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Connell assists with COJ’s school grief groups and helps identify students that are in need of grief support.

“Crawford Woods is blessed to have John Connell,” said Sheila Munafo-Kanoza, COJ director and executive founder.

“The children who are grieving the death of a parent, sibling or loved one know that he is someone they can turn to, and he will help guide them along on their grief journey,” said Munafo-Kanoza.

“John illuminates Christ’s love. He is kind, compassionate and recognizes the importance of helping a grieving child. Parents know their children are cared for when they come to COJ’s monthly session because John takes the time to reach out to them and listens to their children’s needs,” she said.

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Connell said “six years ago, I met Sheila and thought, ‘Wow. This is exactly what we need (at Crawford Woods Elementary),’ because we didn’t have any grief counseling at the time.”

“In the first year of COJ being at Crawford Woods, there were just four students that attended group, but now there are over 30,” said Connell.

“Students love the group. They make friends. They learn healthy coping skills. They’ll stop me in the hallway and excitedly ask, ‘When is COJ here next?’ We’ve taken something that is really sad and made it something that makes them happy.”

Crawford Woods Principal Aaron Hopkins said though Connell is being recognized for his grief counseling work ― who was also recognized with a proclamation from Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller ― the counselor has done much more in his seven years at the school.

“We have many students who have experienced the loss of a loved one,” said Hopkins. “But John is able to build meaningful relationships with our students at an early age. He keeps these relationships going each year. "

“This has had an immeasurable impact on student behavior and the overall climate of the school. John supports the emotional and social development of all students,” he said.

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