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Graduating social work major receives grief quilt she made as a child

RELEASED: Dec. 7, 2010

Dr. Lisa Quinn-Lee and Courtney Munger photo with quilt
Dr. Lisa Quinn-Lee (left) and Courtney Munger hold a children's grief quilt that was recently given to Munger by social work faculty. When she was 10 years old, Munger made a square for the quilt while participating in a children's grief workshop. Quinn-Lee, UW-Eau Claire's newest social work faculty member, was a social work major when she helped facilitate the grief workshop. Munger will graduate this month with a bachelor's degree in social work.

EAU CLAIRE — In recent years, few people paid much attention to the colorful quilt that had hung for more than a decade on a wall in the social work department at the University
of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

The quilt features drawings and messages that clearly were created by young children. But current social work students and many social work professors — most of whom weren't at the university when the quilt was made — had no idea who made it or why.

So students and faculty alike were initially stumped when a surprised senior social work major noticed her name on one of the quilt squares. After asking around, Courtney Munger learned from longtime faculty member Dr. Gloria Fennell that the quilt had been created years ago by Eau Claire youngsters who were part of a children's grief support group facilitated by UW-Eau Claire social work majors.

Munger, an Eau Claire native who was just 10 years old when her mother died in 1995, remembered being among the children who participated in that youth support group.

"I remember the group and I remember that we did different activities to try to get us to express our grief," said Munger, who will graduate with a social work degree this month. "I didn't remember the quilt until I started to really look at it after noticing my name and then finding out where it came from."

Even more surprising, Munger soon learned that Dr. Lisa Quinn-Lee, UW-Eau Claire's newest social work faculty member, was one of the support
group's then-student facilitators nearly 15 years ago. Fennell
reintroduced Quinn-Lee and Munger, who quickly bonded years after their first meeting.

"Everyone who had been connected to the quilt had left the university," said Quinn-Lee, noting that coincidently the quilt had been hanging right outside her office door in the Human Sciences and Services building. "It is amazing that I came back here at the same time Courtney was here. A wonderful connection happened when we were reintroduced. We had this instant bond."

Once Munger's connection to the quilt had been made, social work faculty decided to give the quilt to her.

"It seems to us that Courtney is the quilt's rightful owner," said Quinn-Lee, who was Munger's faculty internship supervisor this semester.

The gesture meant a lot to Munger, whose younger brother, Sam, also was in the grief workshop.

"They surprised me with it during one of my classes," Munger said of receiving the quilt. "It's very cool that they gave it to me. And it was neat that the whole class was there when I got it. I'm keeping it safe right now but I want to figure out a way to hang it in my house."

The quilt square she made in honor of her mom featured a shopping bag, a heart and notes about her mom and her mom's interests in sports and horses, Munger said.

"I brought the quilt to my parent's house and showed it to my dad, stepmother and brother," Munger said. "They were excited to see it and glad that I have it. My brother is younger so he remembered a little about the group but didn't remember the quilt."

Quinn-Lee, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1997, said the Children's Grief Workshop series was created because at the time there wasn't anything like it offered to youth in the community. Having lost her father when she was just 5 years old, Quinn-Lee knew firsthand how important it is to help children cope with their grief after a loved one dies.

Leading the grief support groups helped her understand how she could help other young people who had lost someone special to them, Quinn-Lee said. It also convinced her that she wanted her career to focus on helping grieving kids, she said.

"The experience really influenced me," Quinn-Lee said of facilitating the group years ago. "Not many of the kids wanted to be there at the time, but in the end they clearly got something good from the sessions. Seeing the good it did gave me confidence. And that's a wonderful experience to have as a student."

Munger remembers being among those who did not want to participate in the workshops. But she also knows that in the end she took something valuable from them.

"It took me a long time to realize just how much I got from it," Munger said. "I've always wanted to work with children. I think some of that interest is because of what I experienced as a child. And I think working with grieving children will always be a possibility for me."

After graduating from UW-Eau Claire, Quinn-Lee earned master's and doctoral degrees in social work. She has spent more than10 years as a clinical social worker in the areas of grief, loss and end-of-life care, especially related to children's grief. She currently teaches a "Death and Bereavement" course
at UW-Eau Claire.

"I've devoted my life's work to children's grief," said Quinn-Lee, who came back to UW-Eau Claire as an adjunct faculty member in fall 2009 and then as an assistant professor of social work this fall. "I love working one-on-one with children but I also know how important grief support groups are to help children understand that they are not alone. My work has helped me find meaning around my own loss and allows me to help others with their journey."

Seeing Munger — who has accepted a social work position with Lutheran Social Services in Eau Claire — continue her journey is extremely rewarding, Quinn-Lee said.

"I knew Courtney first as a young girl who had lost her mother and now I know her as a young woman who is going to be a social worker," Quinn-Lee said. "I feel like we've come full circle."

-30-

JB/DW

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