Counseling professor, students help families heal from gun violence
Governors State University (GSU) Counseling Professor Tracey ‘Kim” Snow and College of Education Dean Shannon Dermer recently joined Indiana families and public officials to announce a new grassroots resource that will help the community cope with loved ones lost to gun violence.
Organizers formed the Circle of Love, a support group for families affected by gun violence in Northwest Indiana, after its founder, Sylvia Galvan, lost her son, Thaddeus, in 2016. The tragedy inspired Galvan to create the organization to fill a gap of resources that she once needed. Now, the group will act as a liaison between police and families and provide counseling and other resources including access to GSU’s Student Counseling Services.
This isn’t the first group of this kind the university has worked with. For about a decade GSU and Parents for Peace and Justice, a similar group out of Chicago, have partnered to offer services to those processing grief and trauma, while offering counseling students valuable experience.
Snow, who has offered free counseling to those affected by gun violence for years, said she and some of her students have taken impacted families on weekend retreats, including to a donor's private beach house in Michigan. There, they’ve done art, music, yoga, process groups and other educational activities. She also worked to create a 10-week course tailored for kids to help them process trauma and loss.
These efforts offer an opportunity for some of her students who are from these communities to make a difference, Snow said.
“I’ve had so many students of color who say this is their story, whether they’ve had family that’s incarcerated or affected by gun violence,” she said. And as someone who lost a daughter to a terminal illness at the age of 23, Snow understands “the pain and grief of losing a child as a mother.”
“I’ve also been aware that as a single mom with six kids, if I lived in another area, then my kids could’ve been on either end of the violence,” she said.
“My daughter was my greatest teacher,” said Snow, who uses the pain of that loss to offer compassion to her clients as she helps them build a path towards healing, noting that it “requires using our pain to give back to others.”
“She taught me how to appreciate every day in life,” Snow goes on to say. “Now I feel like this work is my way of staying true to GSU’s mission statement.”
To help more families of gun violence victims, more work is underway at GSU. Snow said her department has received a grant to do preventive work that focuses on the psycho education of students in fourth to seventh grades. The goal is to find a way of providing individual and group counseling to give children a sense of belonging and connection, Snow said. Some of Snow’s students are also working on a resource guide to help parents with mental health support, which will be ready by the end of the spring semester.