Companions on a Journey Supports Grieving Community Members

Kyra K., Staff reporter

Companions on a Journey (COJ) is a faith-based social service organization that provides bereavement support and educational services for children, teens, adults, and families in the Greater Cincinnati region, including West Chester and Liberty Township, Ohio, areas as well as the surrounding Tri-State area. COJ started 26 years ago when our Executive Director, Miss Sheila, lost her husband due to cancer. She had three children, two boys and a girl. During the school day, they missed their Dad. One of her sons said, “Mom, no one knows what it is like when we miss Dad during the day.”

So she started with one school, Moeller High School, which was her son’s school. Now COJ is in 68 schools. Faith Nicolet, a leader of the organization, said that COJ sees between 600 and 1000 students a month. At one school they see 131 students in 13 groups that meet all day long. Students can be missing someone by death, jail, deportation, divorce, moving, or legal reasons. Nicolet stated “My favorite thing is the students, their life stories, and getting to see them from one school to the next.”

They see students who are seniors in high school who were in their COJ group in kindergarten. They have known them for 12 years. They are also in all Hamilton schools so students can be in the group all through school.  Faith states, “My favorite activities are the ornaments where a student can create a time capsule by writing a note to themselves in the past, themselves in the future, anyone they are missing, or anyone they have something to say but can’t say it to them. After the note gets rolled up like a scroll, it is put inside. Then the ornament gets decorated.”

“Another favorite activity is the lantern. It can be decorated and lit to connect with who someone is missing,” Faith said. Faith also said they have no specific goal but that they try to help students feel supported and emotionally safe and know they’re not alone. At the groups, they give snacks and water.   “We try to teach students to be resilient and teach them to have enough coping skills to face things in life. We have fun, laughing, and learning new things together,” Nicolet said.

Randy M., an 8th grader at Garfield Middle School said that it was a nice experience. “It helps by being you,” Randy said. Randy has been in COJ for 6 years and stated that “the best part is talking about grief and the different activities.” Randy said he started going to COJ to express his feelings and not keep them to himself.

Ayden S., a 7th grader at Garfield Middle School has been going to COJ for 2 years. Ayden said COJ helps him communicate better. Ayden stated that his favorite things about COJ are the people he sees and the stories he hears. Ayden said he started going to COJ to help tell people his feelings.

“I would want Garfield students to know we care about them, and if they want to join us to talk to [counselors] Ms. Hord and Ms. Riddle. COJ stands for Companions on a Journey and we are glad to be part of Garfield,” Faith said.