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Valerie's House pausing group meetings after volunteer dies of COVID-19

Posted at 6:44 PM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-16 18:53:07-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Coronavirus cases are becoming personal for many Southwest Florida families as the community continues to fight the surge in Delta cases.

Valerie’s House founder, Angela Melvin, spoke Monday about her organization's unprecedented grief with the recent uptick in COVID cases. That includes their very own mentor and group buddy, Jeremy Feraci.

“He was one of the best. We very much cared for him and he made such an impact on our children,” she said.

Feraci was a mentor at Valerie’s House for a year. Melvin talked about how Feraci comforted a little boy who recently lost his mother. She said he told the boy, “You got this, buddy. I am going to be there for you.”

Melvin said he struggled with the decision to get vaccinated. She tells his story in hopes of keeping others from losing their loved ones.

“I know some are still weighing the risks. People I know personally and feel the vaccine is still an unknown. What is not an unknown that COVID is dangerous and lethal for many that contract it. Please don’t take that risk,” she said.

Melvin said she was shocked to see the number of children coming to Valerie’s House recently. Many of them suffering a loss in their family from COVID-19. Melvin said each family member is around their 30’s or 40’s and unvaccinated.

“I think we have a handful of families that their loved one died from COVID during the pandemic a year ago. I am talking about three or four, so the fact that we have received three or four in one week is what is causing major concern,” she said.

Jessica Schuchard, the Family Care and Outreach Specialist at Valerie’s House, said people need to be more diligent about protecting themselves from COVID-19.

“If I knew that I only had so much time on this Earth. What would be the things that I would want to do? How could I protect my kids, but also make sure we are instilling good opportunities and experiences with them,” Schuchard said.

Melvin announced that they would suspend group support nights until cases decrease. The organization will move to an online format, but Schuchard, who lost her husband, said virtual sessions aren’t the same.

“We have already experienced this last year when initially everything went virtual. It was really hard at first because coming here gives you a sense of community and support. When you are grieving, it is really isolating,” she said.

Schuchard said her children struggled with going to school as one of the few who have lost a parent. She said coming to Valerie’s House gave them a support system. They learned that life is going to be okay even after losing a parent.

Melvin decided with her staff to require each staff member to be vaccinated. If they aren’t, they can no longer participate at Valerie’s House. She said only two staff members are unvaccinated. One decided to get the vaccine and the other stepped away.

“We want to save more families from having to come to Valerie’s House because of a death from this virus,” Melvin said.

Valerie’s House continues its mission of never letting children grieve alone.

To learn more about Valerie’s House, click here.