Pictured are Meredith Fleming, Leigh Ann Darty, Kelly Lawson and her Rainbow Kidz, Ian and Brixton.

BY MIKE FUHRMAN

Leigh Ann Darty and Meredith Fleming are two incredible difference makers in our community.

For children across Iredell County who have lost a friend or loved one, they are a true godsend, providing grief counseling, emotional support, and coping skills when these children need it the most.

More than 400 people attended the 7th Annual Rainbow Kidz Courage Luncheon on Wednesday to learn more about Rainbow Kidz and show their support for the incredible work that Darty and Fleming do every day.

During the past three years, more than 900 new children have become Rainbow Kidz, benefiting from group counseling, individual therapy and summer camps offered by the pediatric bereavement program of Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County. Families are not charged for any of these services.

So Wednesday’s fundraiser — which brought in more than $40,000 — was critical to ensuring that Darty and Fleming can continue helping grieving children.

Darty, the director of the program, shared the stories of a teen whose mother passed suddenly, a 6-year-old who lost his “Pops” to COVID-19 and a 10-year-old who died from breast cancer. Children experience grief in a number of ways, from physical pain and profound sadness to depression and anger, and they often don’t know how to cope with what they are going through.

“In Rainbow Kidz, we teach them it’s okay to cry. It is a healthy expression of love and pain,” she said. t “takes great courage to face those feelings.”

In addition to providing services through Iredell-Statesville Schools, the Mooresville Graded School District and local charter schools, Rainbow Kidz also serves children through partnerships with the Boys & Girls Club of the Piedmont and the Statesville Family YMCA.

Recently, Darty and Fleming have been increasingly called upon to provide immediate crisis support for students impacted by the loss of a teacher and the deaths of classmates in four-wheeler, dirt bike and motor vehicle accidents.

The duo always answers the call.

“Child bereavement is a public health crisis,” Fleming said. “Our hope is that no child will have to go without this special support.”

That support is making a real and lasting difference.

Seven months ago Kelly Lawson lost her husband Chris to COVID-19, leaving her to raise Ian (11) and Brixton (8).

Chris, 51, was an IT guy, a former punk rocker and the love of Lawson’s life.

“I have lost people in my life, friends, family, but nothing could have prepared me for losing my husband of 22 years on March 8,” she said.

Rainbow Kidz was there for Lawson and her boys, providing them with the support and tools they need to work through their grief as they attempt to navigate the world without their father.

“You can tell this isn’t just a job for these two amazing women — this is a passion. I don’t know where our family would be without Rainbow Kidz,” Lawson said. “You can tell the days the boys have group at school; they come home 10 pounds emotionally lighter. Camp was also amazing for them.”

Ian and Brixton have helped Lawson in her own grief journey.

One day she found herself crying while grocery shopping as she thought by Chris. Then she heard a small voice.

“It’s okay you’re feeling that mom,” one of her boys told her. “It’s normal. It’s important to talk about your special person.”

Shocked by what she heard, Lawson asked where her son had heard this, assuming it was in one of the books she bought to help them.

“Ms. Meredith taught me in Rainbow Kidz,” he responded.

Lawson told the crowd that she will forever be thankful for the bereavement program

“I truly believe some rainbows don’t wait until the storm has finished,” she said. “Some shine bright during the storm, they are reliable, always there to remind you of the good during rough times.”

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