The sudden death of a teacher or student can leave a school and community in shock. The Cape May County Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth program provides free assistance and counseling to help teachers and students recover from their grief.

TLC is an interactive, statewide network that began in 2000. It offers collaboration and support to professionals working with school-age youth. The dual goal of the TLC is suicide prevention and trauma response assistance to schools following sudden losses due to suicide, homicide, accident and illness. This is accomplished through county, regional and statewide conferences, training, consultation and technical assistance.

The purpose is to ensure those working with youth from a variety of disciplines and programs have up-to-date knowledge about mental health issues and suicide prevention. In Cape May County, TLC is run through Cape Counseling in Cape May Court House. The coordinator is Chris Miller, director of access, screening and support services at Cape Counseling. He has been involved with the TLC for five years and works with 15 volunteers.

"Our volunteers come from many disciplines, (such as) school counselors, teachers, clergy, mental health workers, a firefighter and policeman," Miller said. "They are trained and go into schools following the death of a teacher or student. They provide psychological first aid for the students and faculty. We will go for as long as the school needs us; it is not just a one-time thing. We also can provide programs for teacher certification in suicide prevention."

The TLC is funded by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, Division of Child Behavioral Health Services through federal grants. The TLC coordinators work to develop either a lead response team or support an existing one. These teams remain available to assist schools when needed. Members are trained in post traumatic stress management for youth.

Dianne Breder, a member of the child study team at Middle Township High School, joined the Cape May County TLC in 2004.

"I know first hand how valuable it is to have compassionate yet knowledgeable professionals there to assist in the beginning," Breder. "I don't share my personal experiences during a response, but my experiences are at the core of why I do this work. Being on the TLC has been beneficial to my role as the crisis team co-coordinator for the high school. The county's TLC receive information and technical assistance from the TLC Central Office in Piscataway, headed by Donna Amundson, TLC statewide coordinator. The local team meetings allow the professionals in the county to share information and to support each other."

Breder said she has responded to several crisis situations.

"Last year our team assisted a school district when a member of their staff died suddenly," Breder said. "This tragedy happened during the school year. We were invited by the administration to come and assist the staff and students. We met with students in their classrooms and gave them the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. We also gave the students and staff information about grief. When we go into a school, the information shared is based on the age of the students.

"As a team member, I have also responded to the sudden death of a student," Breder said. "We reached out to the family and offered support. Members of our team attended the vigils for the student and also attended the funeral services. Our goal was to offer support to the community at large but mainly focusing on the young people. This tragedy happened when school was not in session, so we reached out to the impacted schools to see if they would need assistance when school opened."

Breder considers it an honor to be part of TLC.

"When a community, a family, an individual suffers the death of someone they know and love, the initial days and weeks make an impact on their grief journey," Breder said. "Being part of the TLC offers me the opportunity to use my knowledge, skills and experience to walk with those who are in need in our community. I encourage community members to join the Cape May County TLC. The meetings offer a forum for professionals who care for our young people during tragedies and stressful situations. It is a place to share ideas, upcoming events and concerns."

Volunteer training will be held Nov. 13 and 14 at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township and Nov. 15 and 16 at The Imperia, Easton Avenue, Somerset.

To become a volunteer or for more information in Cape May County, call Miller at 609-465-4100, ext. 141, or email For more information for other counties, call Amundson at 732-235-2810.

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