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How the Journey of Hope is Helping Families Through the Grieving Process

A Q&A with one of the founders, Mark Hundley 

Death: it’s a topic many of us try to avoid. Yet the pain of losing a loved one can strike down like a lighting bolt––sudden and sharp. And when wrapped up in grief, it’s difficult for parents to comfort their kids who are grieving tooWhich is why seven Plano community members banded 20 years ago to found the Journey of Hope (JOH) Grief Support Center. JOH helps kids ages 3–18 by providing a safe place to grieveLast year alonethe center helped nearly 900 family members adapt to their new normal. We sat down with Mark Hundley, Plano Senior High School counselor and a JOH founderto learn about the center’s impact on Collin County families over the years. 

CollinChild: What inspired you to rally behind this cause and, together with your six colleagues, found the Journey of Hope? Mark Hundley: I was widowed in 1989. My daughter was seven. There wasn’t an organization like this that I was aware of. I went to therapy and worked through that process and then through my therapy, helped her. I remarried and went back to graduate school in counseling––that’s what kind of started that process for me. In 1993 my wife and I were watching ABC and it was a special on the Dougy Center in Portland, Ore., which was the very first grief support center for children of its kind. We called to ask if there was anything similar in this area. There was––it’s in Fort Worth, the Warm Place. In the fall of 1996, two or three Plano ISD [Independent School District] counselors attended a conference [where there was] a session by the Warm Place. They came back and said we really need something like that here. Fast-forward to January of 1997 and seven of us began the process of talking about it. It was a combination of various experiences: school counselors, a nurse, my wife and myself, from different perspectives.

CC: What does this program entail for families and their kids? MH: A family will call the main office and they’ll set up an intake appointment. We invite all family members to be there, including the children. Sometimes halfway through they’ll say we’re not ready to do this, so we close the book and make arrangements to stay in contact with them until they are. But let’s say they go ahead and say, “Yes we’re ready to go,” then they find an assigned evening and location. When a family arrives, there’s always a hot meal prepared for them. [Then] they break into age-appropriate groups with two facilitators per group––there are groups for adults also, it’s a full family support approach. It’s support rather than counseling, which means that you have trained facilitators that are working to manage and distribute information, and support through activity-based programming.

CC: What does that look like for kids, when they are separated into groups and participate in activities? MH: Generally, there is an opening circle where every child either has the ability to speak, or not––they don’t have to say anything. There’s a talking piece and it’s passed around and you’re introduced and say, “My name is Mark, and I lost my Dad.” [Activities] are generally art-based; they are either drawing, creating, breaking things and putting them back together. There’s a theme with an activity that’s tied to some aspect of coming to terms with their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Many times they will take those activities with them, which gives them the opportunity to talk with their parents following the session. It extends the conversation and opens the door for different kinds of conversations between parents and children.

CC: I’m sure over the last 20 years you guys have had many success stories. Could you tell about one or two that stood out to you and how it has helped families put their lives back together? MH: I can think of two families in particular, one who lost a father and one was a sibling loss. Both families entered in pretty quickly, so we were talking about 1998, 1999, in the very beginning, and engaged with the support on a weekly basis for several months. Down the road, each of those family members [became] involved in the processes of serving on the board, serving in a speaker’s bureau, serving as facilitators. They found a way to not only heal from that loss, but to share the information with others from their own perspective. When they are ready to give back, we know that they’ve healed to a point where they are ready to reinvest in that whole process. Some of the most recent stories would be [when] families come up to us and say things like, “Journey of Hope saved my life,” or “Without the Journey of Hope I wouldn’t have a direction.”

CC: How can the Collin County community help your cause? MH: They can always look at becoming a facilitator. Facilitator training takes place about three times a year; it’s an intense weekend of training. There’s opportunity to contribute to be a giver. So they can donate, they can become involved in one of the four major fundraising activities that we have, they can invite our CEO to speak to their group [and] introduce her to people they feel might have an interest, whether it’s corporate or community folks. One of the best ways to become involved and see what happens is to have a local organization volunteer to provide a meal. And we do that all the time; organizations either provide the meal itself or serve, or they get the meal donated and then serve.