FORT CARSON, Colo. — An award-winning children’s author and illustrator visited the Fallen Heroes Family Center Oct. 26, to discuss the loss of a loved one.
When Trevor Romain knelt down to share photographs of him petting giraffes and rhinoceroses in Africa, Michael Petersen, 3, reluctantly giggled and then turned toward his mother’s hip. But the slender, upbeat motivational speaker’s mannerisms and South African accent quickly seized the boy’s attention.
“At first Michael was shy, but then he warmed up — and then he was taking his hand and saying ‘let’s go play, let’s go play,’” said Svetlana Petersen, Michael’s mother. His father, Sgt. 1st Class Justin Petersen, died of injuries from a motorcycle accident in May 2009.
“(Romain) knows how to communicate with kids,” said Petersen, while attending Romain’s first visit to the Fallen Heroes Family Center at Fort Carson. “He breaks the ice and lets the kids be kids.”
“(Romain) knows how to communicate with kids. He breaks the ice and lets the kids be kids.”
Survivor Outreach Services coordinators inside the facility support families in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and Utah.
Romain’s interest in helping youths through hardships was seeded in South Africa, while serving two years in his native country’s army. He found himself inspired by consoling children injured during a bloody civil war in Angola. He began volunteering at orphanages in Zimbabwe, Uganda, Burundi, Congo, Kenya and Malawi.
After living in England and Australia, he moved to Austin, Texas. He has created more than 50 self-help children’s books, hosted several animated videos and spoken at various conferences, schools, camps and hospitals. In early 2010, he became president of the American Childhood Cancer Organization.“I’ve basically distilled all those experiences and put them into words kids can understand and help them regulate … and to know when to ask an adult for help,” said Romain.
After his first “With You All the Way” world tour to U.S. military installations last year, his team sent out nearly 30,000 tour kits, paid for by the USO, according to Woody Englander, co-founder of The Trevor Romain Company. The boxes enclosed interactive journals and six videos for military children in sixth grade and below.
Romain is back on the road for military Families, providing comedy based educational conversations to help youths build compassion and confront challenges, such as homework and bullies. He also discusses methods for greater resiliency during deployments and caring for combat injuries and illnesses.
“How do you let your feelings out when they get stuck?” said Romain, standing in front of children and parents in the Fallen Heroes Family Center.
“One of the things I do is find something that makes me laugh and feel good inside,” he said, before telling a series of “duh jokes,” which identified humor in labels and signs around the world.
“This is my journal,” said Romain, while flipping through pages. “I just draw lots of little pictures. I just draw and I draw all the time … and that really helps me.” Romain told the children his father recently died.
“One of the things I do when I’m sad or I’m frustrated or I’m really angry at the world, because my daddy isn’t with me anymore and it hurts me, one of the things I do is I write inside my journal.”
“Is there a journal in there?” said a child, pointing to a stack of white cardboard containers decorated with cartoons, labeled “memory box.” Each one had Romain’s book and video titled “What on Earth Do You Do When Somebody Dies?” On the bottom laid a plush toy and journal.
“How many of you guys have been in a situation where your pain gets stuck?” said Romain. “Have you felt that? It doesn’t want to come out … When you write in a journal, or when you draw in a journal, it helps to move those feelings out of your body.
“The interesting thing is that if we don’t talk about our pain or somebody who’s passed away, what happens is that feeling just flies around us … it sort of like haunts us.
“When you write stuff down it really helps,” he said.
“I really wanted to put this together to give people an opportunity to meet Trevor,” said Doug Lehman, Fort Carson Family Advocacy Program treatment provider, who coordinated Romain’s visit in Colorado. He said the memory boxes are “a great resource for the kids.” He offered to order more from the USO for other children.
Romain said he has visited military children in Alaska, Virginia and Colorado so far this year. He is scheduled for Texas next month.