They gather in Houston Hall about twice a month bearing baked goods and boxes of tissues.
One member, whose mother passed away suddenly three months previously, speaks of the regret she feels over not having had the opportunity to say goodbye. A dozen or so pairs of ears listen closely, offering kind words and support.
The Penn Students of Actively Moving Forward reaches out to grieving students, providing peer-led support groups and service projects across campus and Philadelphia. An outlet for individuals coping with a variety of issues, the Penn Students of AMF seeks to start discussions at times when talking may feel hardest to do.
“We rally grieving students forward,” said College sophomore Melanie Wolff, co-president of Penn Students of AMF.
After recent tragic events at Penn, Wolff said that AMF’s first meeting had more people in attendance than in the past. Moving forward, Wolff wants to make sure that people know that this resource — among other counseling groups — is there for them.
“I hope that we can continue to be a strong force of people who help all of us cope and all those who continue to suffer,” Wolff said. “This is an ongoing issue — people aren’t going to stop passing away.”
Each AMF support group meeting begins with one student sharing his or her story. Attendees can bring photos, pieces of writing or nothing but the thoughts and stresses they wish to vent to peers. Discussion ensues as participants build off each other and share their thoughts, feelings and advice.
“We help each other cope, and we help each other heal,” Wolff, who lost her mother several years ago to ovarian cancer, said.
Founded in 2006, Students of AMF is a national organization dedicated to offering grief support to college students. The Penn chapter, which was founded in 2008, is currently headed by Wolff, along with Nursing senior Danielle Wasserman .
David Fajgenbaum , co-founder of Students of AMF, started the Penn chapter while a student at Perelman School of Medicine. He lost his mother to a brain tumor while an undergraduate at Georgetown University and realized that college students needed an outlet through which to channel their grief.
“In our society, we’re not expected to be able to share,” Fajgenbaum said. “Because no one talks about the fact that they’ve lost a loved one, no one knows they’re going through the experience.”
Even the name of Students of AMF is a tribute to its cause. A double acronym, the name stands for Ailing Mothers and Fathers and immortalizes Fajgenbaum’s mother, Anne Marie Fajgenbaum .
In addition to offering support group services, Students of AMF participates in community service projects, which are often selected with specific members in mind. Last spring, Wolff initiated a project called Paint Philly Teal, in which they placed brochures explaining symptoms and prevention methods of ovarian cancer in proprietary establishments throughout Philadelphia. The group hopes to repeat the project this year.
“It helps to turn your grief into growth,” Wasserman said.
Other past projects have included an arts and crafts night at the Ronald McDonald House, where families of sick children can stay during treatment, and the Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention. This spring, Students of AMF is also planning to hold a supply drive for Camp Kesem, a program for students whose parents have cancer.
The Students of AMF are taking action to remove the stigma associated with grieving. Considering themselves a supplement to professional help, they seek to open doors to communication and aid one another through difficult times.
“It’s really great, just speaking to everyone else. You realize that it’s okay to go see a therapist, it’s okay to get help. It’s part of the grieving process,” Wasserman said.
The next meeting of the Penn students of AMF will be held on Feb. 10 in Houston Hall, Room 313.