Jacob’s dad had been gone about eight years when the magnitude of his loss flooded him.

“I was starting to experience things in my life,” Jacob remembers of being 13. “Milestones in my life. And he’s not around.”

Luckily, Jacob knew he could turn to Bright Star, Health First’s specialized children’s program for grief and loss – and in particular, licensed clinical social worker Terry Musso.

“Ms. Terry has been just an unbelievable help in guiding me through being able to cope with death and understand how I grieve,” Jacob says. “I don’t talk about Ms. Terry and say, ‘She’s my grief counselor.’ I say ‘she’s a friend.’”

Having that “open ear” was just what Jacob needed as he entered his teen years – something he feels helped get him to where he is today.

Jacob was introduced to Bright Star at age five when he lost his father to esophageal cancer. Then, he says, Bright Star was more about learning to live with a sudden void than coping with indescribable grief.

But as time went on, Jacob’s needs changed — and Bright Star’s social workers and volunteers helped him process his pain, connect with kids just like him and learn how to cope in one of the toughest of circumstances. He also enjoyed Camp Bright Star and considers it “somewhere where I can get away.”

The program helped Jacob through tough times and allowed him to see how bright his future could be. He recently graduated from Bayside High and will be attending Florida Institute of Technology in the fall, with his eye on an aerospace engineering degree.

“It’s really hard to consider even how I would be dealing with the way that things are going in life if it weren’t for Bright Star,” Jacob says.