Giana AprezaPress release from Red Bank Regional High School

Two and one half years ago, Red Bank Regional High School junior Giana Apreza entered high school as most teens do, excited about the prospects of a new school experience. The youngest of three children, and the only one still at home, she was particularly close to her mother, Cathleen – and although the Neptune City resident loved to write, she did not feel enough confidence to try out for RBR’s Visual & Performing Art Academy’s popular and competitive Creative Writing program; electing instead to attend RBR’s Academy of Finance.

During her freshman year, right around the holiday season, Giana’s world suddenly changed with the tragic, unexpected death of her beloved mother from an undiagnosed heart ailment. Although her family was a great comfort to her — particularly her father, who immediately assumed both parental roles — Giana naturally struggled with her emotions when she returned to school just a few days following her mother’s passing.

“I was all emotion on the surface, boiling over,” she recalls. “It was very difficult for me…(and) it was difficult for friends to understand what you are going through, since they don’t have much experience with trauma and loss. It was hard for them to deal with such raw emotion.”

Fortunately for students like Giana, RBR has a school based service program directly on their high school campus — one that has helped her come to accept that suffering such a traumatic loss does not have to ill-affect the rest of your life, but can make you stronger.

The SOURCE is staffed by licensed clinicians who are equipped to deal with sudden student tragedies such as Giana’s. She would visit clinician Stacy Liss, who would talk to Giana and guide her offering professional support. Ms. Liss strongly recommended that Giana attend a grief support group at Manasquan-based Common Ground Grief Center, with peers who had also lost an immediate family member.

“That opened me up, and I began sharing my interests with the group,” recalls Giana. “I became known as the writer of the group, and was encouraged to submit a writing piece to a blog known as Children”

She also began to grow and challenge herself academically and personally, finding the courage to pursue her original love of writing. She created a portfolio and successfully transferred into RBR’s VPA Academy as a Creative Writing major, where she is thriving. She was also recommended by Common Ground to present her writing at a major fundraiser for the organization.  Earlier in this year, she appeared as one of three teenage panelists on a webinar for the National Alliance of Grieving Children.  In June, she will participate on a national panel for The National Alliance for Grieving Children, which takes place in Oregon.

“Giana is a great example of someone who after a life changing event, such as the loss of a parent, begins to reflect on who she is and how she really would like to live her life,” says Stacy Liss. “She is an intelligent, sensitive and strong young woman!”

Giana hopes to go to college and study psychology or writing, stating that “I want to get the most out of life.” She has devoted her time to helping others achieve the same.