Local Hero Honored: La Salle High School’s Campus Minister Recognized by Companions on a Journey for National Child’s Grief Awareness Day
by Jacqueline Lazar
One in 11 children in Ohio will experience the death of a parent or sibling by their 18th birthday, and by 24, this statistic doubles. When a child or teen experiences the death of a family member or close friend, it can rattle them to their core, leaving their future uncertain. They often feel disconnected from family and friends, as if they’re no longer normal.
Companions on a Journey (COJ) is an organization that helps these children and families as they go through difficult times. They provide ongoing support for the bereaved, surrounding them with hope, strength and healing as they create their new life balance.
On Nov. 19, during National Children’s Grief Awareness Month, COJ presented Chris Winiarski, director of Campus Ministry at La Salle High School, along with John Connell and Audrey Young, with the COJ 2020 Hope, Strength and Healing Award, for going above and beyond to identify and support grieving children.
Chris Winiarski is the director of Campus Ministry at La Salle High School. He first became involved with COJ when La Salle High School faced a student tragedy.
“Sheila [COJ founder and executive director] gave us a call in the middle of a student tragedy. She showed up at our doorstep and asked, ‘What can we do to help?’ Ever since then, my life, and so many young men’s lives, have been changed.”
As a past COJ board member, Winiarski understands the importance of COJ’s mission: to make sure that no child or teen grieves alone. By recognizing the injury of the heart and soul, Chris connects with each child he meets and helps them to find hope, strength, and healing.
“Every student carries… things – not just a computer or notebooks, but experiences and grief. To help them unpack that has really helped me connect with students and see them for who they are.”
When talking about what COJ means to La Salle High School, Winiarski said, “Being at an all-boys Catholic high school, often, talking about feelings and emotions is one of the things that society tells young men not to do. So in the hour they have COJ, they can let their guards down and heal. They can find that hope, strength and healing.”
Winiarski further helps carry COJ’s mission by recruiting volunteers and assisting with fundraising efforts.
COJ offers a variety of monthly school and community-based support groups to meet each person wherever they are on their grief journey, creating a power of connection that helps each person know that they are not alone. COJ is founded in faith, but welcomes people of all religions, identities and affiliations without exception.
To learn more, visit companionsonajourney.org or call (513) 870-9108.
This article appeared in the January 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.