I lost my parents and younger brother in a swimming accident off the coast of South Carolina at a very young age. I remember being in the water that day, and even though I was only 5 years old at the time, I immediately knew that my life was going to be changed forever.
Before the accident, I lived on the east side of Cincinnati, attended Children’s World daycare, spent a lot of time in the backseat of a station wagon and attempted to play the drums. My mother, from what I have since learned about her, was my complete opposite. She was a high school science teacher, loved trees and bugs, and was not the biggest fan of organized sports. My father, on the other hand, seemed to be more like me, except that he could sing (or so I’ve been told). My little brother was only 2 years old then so we were just starting to cause trouble together. Through pictures, I can relive some of the memories we had together as a family. My most vivid memories involve food fights, Reds games, falling down the stairs in my baby walker and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle birthday parties.
It wasn’t until a few years after that awful day that I attended my first group at Fernside. I can’t recall for certain, but I imagine I was not too keen on attending that first time. I’m beyond glad that I did because once there, I remember feeling comfortable and that I could finally just be myself. Fernside was exactly what I needed at that point in my new life and I don’t know where I’d be now without it.
As time goes by, I find myself continually connecting back to Fernside. In high school, as part of a bereavement group, we used a teamwork mentality to work through grief, similar to methods used at Fernside. In college, a friend and I organized a concert to benefit this great organization. At the benefit, we raised a little money, but more importantly, we raised awareness for the remarkable support and services Fernside offers. Although I wasn’t working directly with Fernside yet, the time I spent there resonated greatly with me and inspired me to try to help others when I could.
After graduating college, I would frequently reflect on my time at Fernside. I realized there would likely never be a “perfect time” to become a volunteer facilitator, but I knew that I needed to give it a shot. After a few weeks pondering what to do, I sent an email requesting information. Shortly after, I was sitting in a training class, surrounded by passionate people from all different professions and experiences. It was extremely uplifting to see so many willing individuals support the organization that had helped me all those years ago. My first training night, I was nervous, but knew that my life had prepared me for this exact opportunity.
I am now part of the downtown group night, working mostly with pre-teens. While their experiences are different than my own, Fernside offers a sense of belonging, and when they tell their loss stories, it’s easy to see myself in their place. Each week after leaving group, I am reminded of the enormous difference Fernside made in my life and continues to make in the lives of those grieving the loss of a loved one.
Tony Martino has been a Fernside facilitator since March 2012. He’s worked with kids of all ages in our evening program and at our Teen Retreat and currently facilitates the preteen group at our Downtown location. He’s supported Fernside at several Young Professional events as well. He works for RedTree Investment Group as a Portfolio Analyst. He and his wife, Maggie, along with Morrison aka “Mo”, live in Mt. Lookout.