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Fundraiser to benefit Valerie’s House

November 29, 2018
By MEGHAN BRADBURY ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The inaugural Hops & Hopes Fundraiser, a family and pet friendly event, will be held at Fort Myers Brewing Company to raise money for Valerie's House.

Event Organizer and Host Kelly Hettenbaugh, who is a senior editor for Got Country Online, a publication founded in Nashville, said Hops & Hopes Fundraiser came to fruition from being asked to cover Island Hopper Songwritter Festival.

"I've been lucky enough to cover it for all five years. I got to know a lot of the songwriters locally and a lot that come down from Nashville. There is really not a big outlet for the local songwriters. In Nashville they have rounds everywhere every single night. I wanted to showcase them (local songwriters) in their art and raise awareness with the local talent we have," she said of how the event Hops & Hopes Fundraiser was born.

The fundraiser, which will benefit Valerie's House, will take place Saturday, Dec. 1 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Fort Myers Brewing Company, 12811 Commerce Lakes Drive, Suite 28 in Fort Myers. Although it is a nonticketed event, donations are welcome.

Hettenbaugh said she found out about Valerie's House through Donation Yoga, an organization based out of Naples that donates half of their proceeds to a different nonprofit each month.

"I lost my mom seven years ago," she said, adding that through the yoga class she found out about Valerie's House. "I wanted to do something with them and for them."

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Hettenbaugh moved to Southwest Florida 12 years ago, following her mom who had already lived in the area. Her mom, Vicki Hettenbaugh, was the director of MPCU and SPCU at HealthPark. Due to the impact her mother had in Southwest Florida, as well as the great connection of people and support, made Hettenbaugh want to give back to the community she now considers home.

Hops & Hopes Fundraiser is a family and pet-friendly event. She said Fort Myers Brewing Company blocks off the parking lot, making it safe for the kids. They also provide water bowls for the dogs who attend.

"Fort Myers Brewing Company is awesome for community involvement," Hettenbaugh said.

The artists performing include Chloe Friedman; Sarah Hardwig; Sam DeArmond; Caleb Neff; Katie Lyon and Keefe Klug. The Charlie Moon Band will perform following the fundraiser from 7 to 10 p.m.

In addition to the live music, there will also be food trucks onsite, as well as coloring for the kids.

"The brewery is going to donate a portion of their sales from the day," Hettenbaugh explained.

The focus of the event is involving the brewery, as well as raising awareness for local songwriters and Valerie's House.

Valerie's House Operations Director Joanne Hayden said they are a nonprofit organization that serves children who have lost a parent, sibling, or occasionally a grandparent.

"They come to Valerie's House with their caregiver, a surviving parent or sometimes the grandparent. They come twice a month and they meet in their peer group. We have grade school, middle school and high school groups. We have activities that we use to kind of help identify some of the emotions and struggles with the grief process, (which) is part of their lives. We do a lot of things with art and music, so it gives them the opportunity to express things tangibly and talk about it," she explained.

The caregivers are also given the opportunity to meet in a group setting, so they can talk about the loss, while participating in similar activities.

The first session of Valerie's House began in January 2016 in Southwest Florida with 20 children. It has since grown to about 300. Last month alone they had 13 enrollments out of 19 inquires, and so far in November they have enrolled nine new families.

Through that growth, Hayden said they have been able to identify particular groups, such as providing fathers with the opportunity to meet with other fathers.

"The dads found that they had some different kinds of things to discuss and share because they are a man raising children," she said. "It's one of the reasons that we have the moms meet separately from the dads in their support group."

In the fall a group began for those experiencing a loss of a sibling. Another group began for young adults who have surpassed the high school age, as well as those who lost a loved one to opioids.

Valerie's House receives referrals through the schools, funeral homes, word of mouth, hospitals, or through their website. Once a family finds out about the house they make an appointment with their program team for an enrollment visit, which typically lasts about an hour. There are two team members, one who meets with the child, and the other with the caregiver.

The team members encourage them to talk about the loss, as well as some of the things they may be going through individually and with their family. There is also an evaluation sheet that helps determine where they are in their grief process by asking such questions as are they having nightmares, are they sleeping, do they have an appetite and how school is going.

"A lot of times we find that this is affecting kids in school academically and behaviorally," Hayden said.

Hayden said it is humbling when individuals come to them and say they want to hold a fundraiser and they want the money to benefit Valerie's House.

"We really have been blessed by a lot of support in the community," she said. "I was pretty excited about it (Hops & Hopes.) We are thrilled to have been chosen. IT will be fun to be there. We will have some information and interact with the folks and have the opportunity to talk to people who might have some questions about what we are doing."



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