POLAND, Ohio (WKBN) – A parent who lost his son in the Sandy Hook school massacre is inspired by what 185 schools in Ohio are doing with the No One Eats Alone program.
On Friday, Mark Barden talked about the importance of the program and how it is a reminder of something his son, Daniel, would have done.
Barden wears a green “What Would Daniel Do?” bracelet as one way to remember his son, who was among 20 first-graders and six other people who lost their lives in a school shooting in Newton, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
“We lost our 7-year-old son, Daniel. He was murdered in his first-grade classroom. I mean, I can’t tell you what it’s like to have to navigate that,” Barden said Friday during a training session on adolescent grief and trauma at the Lake Club.
The father, who is now an advocate, has spent the past two years looking for ways to address social isolation. Thousands of miles away, he learned about a program called No One Eats Alone.
“Empowers students to just be aware of that and to look out for their classmates that might be sitting alone,” Barden said.
No One Eats Alone is in 19 Mahoning County school districts, including Struthers and Jackson Milton. Barden said it can help save a life.
“Prolonged social isolation can be a contributor to future either being a victim of violent behavior or perpetrating violent behavior,” he said. “If we can do something to prevent other families from having to live through this, then that has become my life’s work.”
Mahoning County Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick said having Barden share his story was an important part of the training.
“We are hoping by educating as many people as we can about how to recognize it, how to treat it and how to talk to those folks who are suffering from it will help heal them and be able to make them better people,” Dellick said. “The more we talk about grief and trauma and show how it affects everybody’s life. It is not just a death. It is a loss of something and for young children, they grieve many different things. So it’s important to help parents, help those who come into contact with children, identify it.”
Approximately 500 schools across the country participate in No One Eats Alone. It is encouraging to Barden and is something he knows Daniel would do.
“He was the kid who would reach out to somebody who was sitting alone and to his sweet, compassionate little personality living on and being implemented in schools in Ohio and across the country is absolutely wonderfully inspirational to me,” Barden said.
Friday’s session focused on recognizing the signs of adolescent grief and trauma and getting help. Social workers, educators, lawyers and parents attended the training, which discussed how adolescents sometimes mask their grief by overachieving, while others go into isolation.