More than four years ago, Ann Marie DeMarcantonio went through a painful time in life. She lost both of her parents within a short period of time. Soon after, her 25-year-old son passed away.
"I lost everybody that I loved," said DeMarcantonio. When she looked around Carbon County for a support group to get her through the deaths of her loved ones, she found little help.
"There were no support groups in our area."
Determined to change this, DeMarcantonio founded her own support group in 2007. "Reflect and Renew Circle of Friends" has been offering friendship and support ever since and DeMarcantonio has found her calling in helping others who struggle with loss, grief, and pain.
"By reaching out to others, I also helped myself to move on," she said. "I feel that I've been blessed."
DeMarcantonio will mark the fourth year of "Reflect and Renew" on April 18, when the group holds opening day at the Hampton Inn in Lehighton. The group meets twice each month on the first and third Sunday, taking a short break for winter.
Since its founding, DeMarcantonio has helped dozens of local adults overcome pain and loneliness. Support group members face a variety of problems, including lost loved ones, depression and job loss. Each issue is taken seriously and group members provide prospective and advice, helping each other to heal.
"We think that we have problems," she said. "But when you hear somebody else's problems, you start to feel that you just want to reach out and help them. This group is not meant to eliminate all pain, hurt or grief, but to share and find ways to heal. We are a shoulder to lean on, and an ear to listen."
During each meeting, group members have a chance to discuss their problem publicly or privately. Those who want to receive help anonymously can write their problem on a piece of paper and add it to a box during the meeting. At the end of the meeting, each of these topics is discussed by the group.
While Reflect and Renew is a Christian-centered support group, she encourages people of all beliefs and backgrounds to attend.
"This is not a religious group, and I don't force religion on people. But it's our faith that helps us to heal. You have to believe in something," she said. "It's OK to cry and to feel like you can't go on. But you will go on. Time and prayer can help. So can having somebody to listen."
She credits her own faith with getting her through the loss of her loved ones, and now believes that she is called to help others with similar struggles.
"I try to use myself as an example. I want people to know that there is hope, and that somebody cares," she said. "I was never one to get in front of a group, but God has led me to do this."
The number of people attending these twice-monthly meetings varies she has had as many as 20 people attend in one night.
"I've also had meetings where it is one-on-one and only one person attended, but that person needed help," she said. "As long as I see a need, I will continue to hold meetings."
DeMarcantonio has also built a network with local support and intervention groups. If she doesn't believe that Reflect and Renew can help someone, she provides them with the name of someone who will.
"We always try to find them the help that they need," she said. "We will never turn anyone away without trying to help them."
All who suffer from grief, loneliness and pain are encouraged to call DeMarcantonio at (610) 379-1016 for information on opening night. There is no cost to attend meetings, and new members are welcome but must contact her to reserve a seat. Seating is limited.