Milan Coraggio Sewell is not your average 16-year-old.
When she is not studying for her ACT's or playing in tennis tournaments, she is CEO of a not-for profit with a compelling cause channeled from a childhood tragedy.
"My childhood best friend and I were inseparable. When I was 6-years old, our families were together in California. On that trip, my friend died a tragic death. All I can remember from that trip is that one day I was playing with my best friend on the beach and then I never saw him again," Sewell shared. “Years later, both my grandparents died, and I went through the same cycle of emotions again.”
From heartbreaking loss, Milan founded Boxed Up Project, with the tagline, helping kids unpack their grief. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids and teens struggling with grief and loss.
“The meaning behind the name, Boxed Up Project is because when I went through all the loss in my life, I kept all my feelings boxed up inside of me. I hid my emotions and refused to talk about it which, I believe, hurt me even more. Once I found a way to express everything I held inside, I felt better and started on my road to healing," Sewell said
Sewell researched kids' and teens' grief and not only found the process to be different from adults, but that the number of kids and teens who have experienced a tremendous loss were staggering.
According to National Grief Awareness one in five children will experience the death of someone close to them by age 18.
“Kids are encountering death more often and at a younger age—it’s just inevitable,” says Gerald Koocher, chief of psychology at Boston’s Children’s Hospital in an article published by the Wall Street Journal.
As she compiled information, Sewell said realized she needed professional guidance and worked closely with accredited grief counselors to curate the right materials for Boxed Up Project grief toolboxes, as well as creating the instructions on how and when to use the items.
Sewell contacted local organizations that offer programs that help kids and teens manage their grief to see if they would be interested in her grief boxes.
One of the first to partner is Kim Humphries, director of operations at Billy's Place, a safe community for kids dealing with grief. This free service provides support groups to West Valley residents to help families who have experienced a devastating loss. Humphries said she was eager to partner with the Boxed Up Project because,
"I love to foster projects created by young people for young people." Kim went on to say, "Billy's place is creating curriculum for the grief first aid kits for our peer support groups rehab, such as Kid's Kicking Back and Teens Chill."
What Humphries said she loves most is that "Milan is turning her grief journey into something meaningful, not just rewarding."
Soon after Billy's Place was on board, Hospice of the Valley New Song Center for Grieving Children also teamed with Boxed Up Project. Sewell now had the interest she needed to create the important box in Boxed up Project.
Nathan Goldberg, President of Specialized Office Systems Inc., was introduced to Milan through a mutual friend of the family.
"When I met Milan, I immediately knew I wanted to help her and be a part of this," Goldberg said. "Boxed Up Project is going to have a profound impact on young people who are going through something our society doesn't like to talk openly about."
Goldberg and his team designed the beautiful boxes that will be the first thing kids and teens see.
"The box with its coloring book style is an outlet to create something unique for that child," Goldberg said. "When you are upset or anxious coloring helps to calm you," he continued.
Sewell said she wants Boxed Up Project to reassure kids and teens they are not alone, and whatever they are feeling is okay. Right now, she is focusing her project on those who have lost a loved one but hopes to expand to help kids and teens who have lost a pet, have experienced trauma, or are separated from a parent because of the military or other circumstance.
Two of her best friends, both 16and juniors at different high school, have joined the Boxed Up Project team. They each have their own individual stories of loss and are passionate about helping kids heal.
If you interested in supporting kids who are struggling after the loss of a loved one, Boxed Up Project is raising money to fulfill an order for five hundred boxes. For information on how to donate please contact BoxedUpProject@gmail.com.
This is a submission done in partnership with Arizona Highways TV.