By Raymond Bill
Lifetime valley resident, Jennifer Loza, knows a great deal about tragedy and grief. It was late January of 2012 that Jennifer suddenly lost her husband, Ronnie, due to a blood clot after a massage. He was only 44 years old. Their two sons were 9 and 18 years old at the time. After 25 years in the real estate business and property management, she had just quit her job days before losing her husband. What was she to do? How would she tell the kids? She had so many questions and needed to find help for her family to deal with their collective heartbreak.
Jennifer found a grief center that provided strength in their traumatic time but when their funding ceased unexpectedly, the center was forced to close their doors. The youngest son, Steven, then fell into a depression and remained withdrawn. He yearned for his father and struggled to cope without him. At 16 years old, Steven would enter treatment for depression, anxiety and addiction. Jennifer’s story of grief and loss is just beginning.
Just days after checking Steven into the treatment facility, the family suffered another tragedy. Ronnie’s brother, Todd suffered a fatal heart attack and passed away at the age of 45. Jennifer remembered just how difficult it was telling the boys that their father had died and now she had to tell them they have lost their uncle as well. She waited a week to tell her youngest son. After hearing the news, Steven attempted suicide.
When grief goes unresolved and one is unable to see past their trauma, addiction is often the result. This, too, was the case for Steven. A downward depression would lead to psychiatric evaluations and self-harm. Throughout all of this, Jennifer had gone back to college to receive her bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2017 and training from The Dougy Center, the nation’s largest grief center. In 2018, when Steven was in the depths of his grief-induced depression, and in hopes that it would help heal her family, Jennifer launched Ronnie’s House For Hope, an organization that aims to provide to our community the tools needed to deal with long-term grief. Ultimately, unable to save Steven from his addiction, Jennifer would lose her son at the age of 18 in October of 2020.
Inspired by her son’s battle with loss and subsequent addiction, and in memory of her late husband, Ronnie’s House For Hope allows Jennifer to share her story with others and give them a safe place to express their emotions and how to cope moving forward. Working closely with parents offering parent-focused programs, as well as dozens of children between the ages of 7 and 18, this organization provides activities to share experiences and programs to deal with grief, addiction, anxiety, and depression.
It is not uncommon for adolescents to feel like an after-thought when they have lost a loved one. Jennifer recalled one teenage girl stating, “Everyone tells me to take care of my mom but no one’s taking care of me”. At Ronnie’s House For Hope, she would learn that, “being strong” means, “allowing yourself to feel emotions and getting up anyway”. It is a process.
This organization provides a service that many do not put thought to until it is needed. And this is why Ronnie’s House For Hope needs our help. These services are always free to families. Jennifer believes that money should never be a factor in mental health care and therefor no one will be turned away over financial hardship.
Ronnie’s House For Hope relies on grants and donations from the community it serves. What is most needed is a space from which services can be provided. This can be a house or a small shop or business. Whether it is a tax-deductible donation or a discounted, affordable rate, this is necessary as pandemic restrictions are being lifted and vaccinations are made available to the public.
Other ways to help include cash donations, event sponsors, supplies and craft donations, as well as qualified volunteers (ideally, a licensed therapist, CPA, and social media manager). The highly anticipated annual Welcome Winter Festival will be held December 11th this year and they need vendors, exhibition booths, and donations for a silent auction. To make a tax-deductible donation or learn more about this local organization, I implore you to please visit www.ronnieshouseforhope.org or call at (760)485-9019.