Willow Center celebrates 25 years

Nicole Sotkiewicz poses for a photo in the Lobby of the Willow Center. (Credit: Rachel Sun / NWPB)



When children lose a loved one, they don’t always have the space to grieve on their own. That’s where places like the Willow Center in Lewiston, Idaho come in, said Executive Director Nicole Sotkiewicz.

“Children and adults grieve differently but then also a lot of times, children are going to grieve how the adults show. They’re going to mimic grief in the house,” she said. “Kind of taking them outside of that, whether it’s at camp or even within our groups. It gives them an opportunity to find it on their own.”

This week will mark 25 years of the Willow Center doing just that. The center provides free bereavement resources for children and their families, including access to peer support groups for children, and young adults ages 19-29, as well as groups for adult caregivers and parents.

The Willow Center also organizes Camp Erin. It’s a free, weekend-long bereavement camp in July for children ages six to 17.

The center is the only one of its kind between Spokane and Boise, Sotkiewicz said. It serves families from the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, the Palouse and surrounding areas. In 2023, the center reports it served around 600 individuals who came to peer support groups and 30 families, she said.

Children’s peer support groups are available twice a month in separated age groups for children as young as three and up to age 18.

“The younger kids, there’s probably going to be maybe some more crafts and, ‘How are you feeling?’ And teaching them how all their emotions are OK,” Sotkiewicz said. “You can be angry, maybe some kids are happy, because maybe it was an abusive relationship. Then with the older kids, there might be more discussions around feelings with some activities.”

For many children, having others their age who are going through the same thing they are is powerful, Sotkiewicz said.

“The biggest thing you get from those peer support groups is just like, ‘OK there’s a whole nother group of kids that are going through the same thing as me and I’m not alone,’” she said.

Although the Willow Center has been around for 25 years, she said, many people still don’t know about them or the services they offer. The Willow Center also provides consultation, community resources and presentations.

“I think a lot of people don’t know what we do,” Sotkiewicz said. “We provide free grief resources for children and families … please come use us.”