David Fajgenbaum knows that pain and grief can arrive on your doorstep in an instant.
His mother Anne Marie was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor in 2003 just a few days before he left home in Raleigh, N.C., to attend college at Georgetown University. It was a heavy burden for a teen to carry — his mom left to cope with the disease while he moved five hours away from her.
Fajgenbaum wanted to create an outlet for students facing a loved one’s illness or death, as he was, and suffering in silence, as he did. So he started a nonprofit organization now known as the National Students of AMF Network — an acronym for Actively Moving Forward and his mom’s initials — to enable students to support one another.
Robin Gaines Lanzi, Ph.D., associate professor of Health Behavior in the UAB School of Public Health wants to help Fajgenbaum — her former student — see his dream grow, and she’s offered to be the faculty advisor for a UAB chapter for interested students.
Lanzi, too, knows the difficulties college students face when they lose a loved one.
“My dad passed away during my second year in graduate school at UAB,” Lanzi says. “It is important it is to have something like the National Students of AMF available. Grief is a very isolating experience, but it doesn’t have to be so. AMF provides tremendous resources and outlets to those learning to deal with their grief.”
Help available on campus for students
Free, confidential counseling related to personal growth, human development and interpersonal relationships is available at the UAB Counseling & Wellness Center, located in the Holley-Mears Building. For information or assistance call 205-934-5816
UAB’s Campus Ministry Association, also available to students, is made up of professional ministers serving the university as representatives of their respective faith communities. Visit www.uab.edu/handbook/student-services/campus-ministry for more information.
Lanzi was Fajgenbaum’s professor at Georgetown in 2006. She was his summer research fellowship advisor, senior honors thesis advisor and, he says, angel mentor through AMF at Georgetown. Lanzi also is a co-author on a paper with Fajgenbaum and AMF co-founder Benjamin Chesson in the April issue of the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy. The article, “Building a Network of Grief Support on College Campuses: A National Grassoots Initiative,” featured Fajgenbaum's and Lanzi's comprehensive assessment of university practices, policies and programs for bereaved college students.
Fajgenbaum says it was Lanzi who encouraged him to conduct his senior honors thesis research on the national need for a support network. That in turn led to expanding the group beyond Georgetown and into a nonprofit organization.
Since 2006, the organization has worked with students from more than 160 different colleges and universities to start 44 campus chapters and support more than 2,000 grieving students. Fajgenbaum says UAB is an ideal place for an AMF chapter, and that having Lanzi on campus to guide the program gives it a great advantage.
“Her leadership, AMF’s resources and a motivated student leader will result in dozens of students on UAB’s campus — who otherwise would suffer in silence — having support and opportunities to channel their grief into positive, proactive and productive outlets,” Fajgenbaum says.
Lanzi, who was recently asked to join AMF's National Board of Mental Health Professionals, says her goal is to help develop a chapter at UAB and coordinate with other Alabama universities to build support to provide to grieving students.
Managing grief tough for students
Nearly one in three college students reported grieving the death of a family member or close friend within the past year. Learning to deal with grief is not easy, and students are especially and uniquely vulnerable to the valleys grief can bring.
Geographic distance from usual support systems, academic demands, carefree social life and general lack of grief support make them vulnerable, and research shows grieving students are at greater risk than their peers for academic, social and developmental issues. In spite of this, few targeted, supportive interventions existed on college campuses until AMF was created.
|Geographic distance from usual support systems, academic demands, carefree social life and general lack of grief support make students vulnerable. Research shows grieving students are at greater risk than their peers for academic, social and developmental issues. In spite of this, few targeted, supportive interventions existed on college campuses until AMF was created.|
Fajgenbaum and Lanzi found that professional counseling was the primary resource available. Other resources, including campus ministry and local bereavement centers, were underused, and few universities provided additional resources, although administrators welcomed them.
“AMF campus chapters do not replace any pre-existing services,” Lanzi says. “The chapters aim to supplement and connect students to the campus safety network. UAB is a wonderful example of the way universities can and do provide for college students with its UAB Counseling and Wellness Center and the Campus Ministry Association. Using the student voice to promote services already available on campus can encourage more students to use available resources.”
What AMF provides
The campus chapters are student-led, employee-advised and university-recognized student organizations. They consist of a peer-led grief support group, a service group open to entire campus community and a mentoring program that connects grieving students with supportive faculty and staff.
The support group connects grieving college students with others who understand what they are going through and also offers information and connects students with supportive resources, including professional counseling.
The service group encourages students to get involved in community service and, if grieving, to channel their grief through positive outlets.
“Service is an opportunity for students to raise awareness and funds for causes important to chapter members,” Lanzi says. “It could be a cause important to the community — like the April 2011 tornadoes here — or it could be a cause related to a health condition that affected their loved ones. It’s a way for people to feel like they’re contributing.”
The national organization provides a host of resources to assist with developing and growing the chapter: former chapter leaders who serve as coordinators, monthly conference calls among chapter leaders nationwide, a chapter-development guide, direct financial support and scholarships for chapter leaders to attend the annual National Conference on College Student Grief.
Fajgenbaum says the support chapters receive combined with Lanzi’s credentials give UAB a great start should students decide to start an AMF chapter.
“We have found that the chapters with the strongest faculty advisors are the most successful. With that in mind, UAB will without a doubt be very successful,” he says.