Grief affects everyone differently. For Billy, it manifested itself as anger nearly two years after his father died.
Billy was only 15 months old when his father died unexpectedly in a car accident in Illinois, but it wasn’t until he turned 3 that he started acting out.
“With little to no place to turn, (his mother) was trying to figure out why her son, a year and a half later, was acting out,” his aunt, Kris Friedman, said. “He was 15 months when his dad had died and when he turned 3, he was acting up, and she just did not know what to do with him. She was like, ‘I just don’t understand, I don’t know why he’s so angry all the time, and what’s going on with him.’
Billy’s mother, Juli McGreal Schragel, took him to counselors and doctors who suggested therapy or medicine, but she wasn’t satisfied with either option.
“She ended up finding a grief support group in Wisconsin and it made all the difference in the world,” Friedman said.
Shortly after, Billy and his mother moved to Arizona.
“When she moved to Phoenix, she was like, ‘There’s nothing out here in the Northwest Valley that serves our families the way they need to be served,” Friedman said.
So McGreal decided to start her own nonprofit grief support organization and Billy’s Place was born. That was in 2012 and about six months later, Friedman hopped on board as the executive director.
“It’s just been a slow and steady growth ever since,” Friedman said. “We’re making a difference in the Northwest Valley, which is super cool.”
In the beginning, Billy’s Place held one grief program per month. But the staff soon found they needed to hold more, so they started what’s called a “Kids Kicking Back” night.
“Which is an informal evening where the parents can drop their kiddos off. We do grief activities but we also have fun. It just gives the kids an ability to bond. We still do an opening circle where they all share who their special person was and how they died,” Friedman said.
But as Billy’s Place grew, staff realized more formal support groups were needed.
“As we’ve grown and as we’ve evolved, we’ve tried to really meet the needs of our community,” Friedman said.
So they added even more support groups, including Overcoming Together and Mending Through Suicide, both family support groups.
“We have seen an increase in families coming to us after somebody had died by suicide in their family,” Friedman said. “So what we did was we decided that we would do a group specifically for that because it is such a different feeling in some ways.”
Staff also added the YA Grief group, which is for young adults, ages 15-30.
“We found that that is actually a part of our community that is not being supported much at all,” Friedman said. “They kind of don’t fit into the maybe parent/adult scenario, but they don’t fit into the kiddo group.”
She said the YA Grief group is her forte.
“I love the adolescents and young adults, I love that group of kids, they’re so awesome,” she said.
Billy’s Place also added a group called “The Journey,” a drop-in group for adults.
Registration is required for YA Grief, The Journey and Kids Kicking Back. An intake assessment is required for Overcoming Together and Mending After Suicide.
Groups meet on a monthly basis and are open ended. Visit https://billysplace.me/ to see the calendar.
5th annual Butterfly Release
Billy’s Place will hold its fifth annual Butterfly Release at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29 at Copper Hills Church, 27035 N. Black Rock Blvd. in Peoria.
The butterfly has been a symbol of Billy’s Place since its inception.
Before Juli’s husband died, he built a butterfly garden for her at their home. “Butterflies were always really symbolic to both Juli and Mike, her husband who had died,” Friedman said. “So when she decided to start Billy’s Place, she was like, ‘I just see a butterfly. A, it’s very symbolic of death and grief, but B, it represents who Mike and I were.’ So it kind of started with a butterfly being the logo of Billy’s place.”
During the creation of Billy’s Place, it was decided that the organization would hold community events.
“We just started talking about different things that we could do as an event and I believe Juli’s the one that came up with the butterfly release and just said, ‘Hey, how about if we do this? It’s very symbolic,’” Friedman said. “We researched it a little bit, and we actually did a grief retreat, her and I, and we did release butterflies at the end. These butterflies mimicked these people’s journeys. It was just so beautiful and it was so inspirational to watch. It’s kind of like a healing process and a memorial event.”
During the release, everyone states who they’re releasing their butterflies for, she said.
“It’s kind of crazy, but every time a family member can acknowledge that, it’s part of the process,” Friedman said. “So if they say, ‘I’m releasing this butterfly in memory of my daughter,’ and they’ll state their daughter’s name, it’s something that’s a really hard thing to do, but it’s a beautiful thing when somebody can actually acknowledge it and kind of help to keep moving through that.”
Anyone wanting to participate in the Butterfly Release must RSVP by Aug. 20 at www.billysplace.me. The cost is $20 per butterfly.
Billy’s Place holds three other community events throughout the year: Hike for Hope in February, which is the organization’s only fundraising event; a balloon release in August; and Children’s Grief Awareness Day in November.
Billy’s Place relies totally on donations with some of its biggest supporters being the city of Peoria, Peoria Diamond Club and West Valley Mavericks. It has received several grants, including a recent grant from the National Alliance of Grieving Children, and it gets private donations from the public.
Billy’s Place is nonclinical, with volunteers facilitating the support groups.
“Our volunteers come from all walks of life, so some have had a loss themselves, others have had just experience with kiddos, so they may have worked in a childcare setting,” Friedman said. “You know the crazy thing is sometimes people think that, ‘Oh you have to go through a loss to be a good volunteer at Billy’s Place,’ and we have a lot of volunteers that haven’t suffered a significant loss but relate with our families and our kids in a way that makes it so special. So our volunteers don’t have to have had a personal story themselves.”
All volunteers are background checked and trained. The next training session is set for Oct. 20 at Billy’s Place, 21448 N. 75th Ave. in Glendale. To sign up for the training, go to https://billysplace.me/volunteer. For more information, call 623-414-9838.