By Sloane M. Perron, Manager of Marketing Communications
Alicia Johnston ‘19 G’21 provides hope and comfort to families grieving a lost pregnancy or child. While her work at Hope After Loss takes an emotional toll, Johnston credits her Anna Maria College education for providing her with the skills she requires to help those in desperate need of understanding and support.
Her journey with Anna Maria College began as an undergraduate in the Studio Art and Art Therapy program. After graduating in 2019, Johnston attended graduate school at Anna Maria College earning her Master’s in Social Work in 2021.
“I decided to come to Anna Maria because they had a really great art therapy program, and it was one of the only colleges in New England to offer art therapy in the capacity that I was interested in learning,” Johnston explained, “Our therapy program at Anna Maria is different because it takes more of a holistic approach rather than a clinical approach, which is something that I was more focused on, using art as a form of healing for others.”
In addition to finding a major that she enjoyed, Johnston also found a campus community that she connected with and clubs where she could express her love for other creative outlets such as Drama.
While completing her Social Work graduate studies, Johnston realized that she wanted to focus on macro social work allowing her to work with the community at large through reviewing policies and procedures that have a wider impact. As Program Manager at the nonprofit Hope After Loss, Johnston helps grieving families connect with the services and resources that they need.
“I get to look at the policies and procedures within hospitals, within funeral homes, within different learning environments,” Johnston said about her work at Hope After Loss, “I not only try to make a loss less traumatic, if I can do that for people who’ve experienced pregnancy and infant loss, but I really examine how to help them best navigate society and look at the backdoors of policies that maybe aren’t supporting this population as best they could.”
Johnston was also able to use her creative writing and art abilities to focus on another group who needed grief support. Typically, the services at Hope After Loss are focused on the parents who have suffered a loss, but Johnston wanted to find a way to support children who have lost a sibling. She wrote, illustrated, and published Flowers for a Hope, a book which helps children understand their emotions as they navigate the stages of grief.
“It was such a beautiful, cathartic experience for those families that I spoke with and something that I felt very passionate about. I feel like kids today really deserve the truth in a way that’s not confusing with metaphors or euphemisms. Kids can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. So, I think it is important to give them the tools to process their own grief with a trusted loved one, and to read about experiences that are similar to their own,” Johnston said.
Johnston said that the three greatest influences at Anna Maria College were Julie Soucy Hurley from the Art Therapy department, Anna Maria’s Drama Club, and Social Work faculty who became her greatest cheerleaders and mentors.
“I would say Anna Maria’s greatest strength is the faculty. The faculty truly go above and beyond their required duties,” Johnston said, “They have such love for what they do, and they have such love for the students, and it shows. I’m sure you could ask any social work person who graduated, and they would say the same thing.”
Johnston has a passion for supporting others as a Program Manager at Hope After Loss but is also excited to create her own children’s illustration and self-publishing support company called Wriggle House.
Johnston’s book Flowers for Hope is available for purchase on Amazon.