For grieving children and adults, a place to tell their stories

While grief is something we will all go through, there are few places we can turn to find comfort, solace, understanding, and a place to tell our stories.

One of life’s hardest and most unifying experiences is the loss of a loved one. And while grief is something we will all go through, there are few places we can turn to find comfort, solace, understanding, and a place to tell our stories.

The Dougy Center, the national program for grieving children and adults, does just that.

The center was conceived of and founded in 1982 by Beverly Chappell. Chappell had provided end-of-life care to Dougy Turno, a 13-year-old boy with terminal brain cancer who was brave, articulate, and direct about his desire to discuss and face issues of death and dying.

After witnessing Dougy’s grace and seeing a need for grief services in the healthcare industry, Chappell was inspired to begin organizing grief support groups and facilitator trainings to children and families dealing with the loss of a loved one.

older woman and small child stand on steps of dougy center The Dougy Center was the first center in the United States to offer peer-to-peer grief counseling for youth and families. (Photo: The Dougy Center)

The organization quickly grew and soon the Dougy Center found a permanent home in Portland, Oregon. It was the first center in the United States to offer peer-to-peer grief counseling for youth and families. Today, it serves close to 1,000 children and adults each month, free of charge, from several locations throughout Oregon.

The impact of these services is profound. Brennan Wood, executive director of the Dougy Center, knows — she went through the program in the 1980’s when her mother died. “There’s very few places in the world where, when you’re going through these circumstances, there are people there who know and understand your experience.”

She says of the Dougy Center:

“We bring together kids and families that have had similar experiences in their lives and give them the opportunity to be involved here as long as they need to be. They have the opportunity to share their story as many times as they need to share it, and process that story over time.”

The Dougy Center model of grief support services has reached far beyond Oregon. The center provides grief education and training materials to organizations throughout the world, with an estimated 500 organizations claiming to have been trained or inspired by their unique peer support model.

children play outside on playscape The center has been providing support for grieving children and teens since 1982. (Photo: The Dougy Center)

And more growth is on the way. This year the center received a $1 million grant from the New York Life Foundation to expand its online resources and summer training program. But that will only sustain the current model.

The hope, says Wood, is to eliminate barriers to grief counseling access, especially to underrepresented and marginalized groups. For that, she says, additional funding is essential as they receive no money from federal or insurance sources, and demand for their free, open-ended services is increasing by more than ten percent annually.

“Can you imagine if we had to say that the cost of our services to your grieving child was $1500, because that’s what it costs us?” She asks. “That’s a barrier.”

In a world that’s progressing so quickly, even our grief is hurried, and all of us are just a moment away from needing this kind of support. The Dougy Center is holding that critical space.

Writer Ruby McConnell

Ruby McConnell is a writer, geologist, environmental advocate whose work has appeared in Oregon Humanities, Mother Earth News, and Grain Literary Journal. She is author of A Woman’s Guide to the Wild and A Girl’s Guide to the Wild. You can almost always find her in the woods.

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