The Dougy Center peer grief support groups

Jun 25, 2014

When Spring Is In The Air

Because no child should grieve alone.
Because no child should grieve alone.

When the tulips and daffodils begin sprouting up from the ground, you know Spring is not far behind. While May and June bring the promise of warmer temperatures and more sunshine to all of us, it can be a treacherous time for those who are grieving. Mother’s Day, followed swiftly by Father’s Day, can bring feelings of uneasiness and deep sadness when we are grieving the death of a parent.       

Imagine, just for a moment, being 9 years old in your 3rd grade classroom as the teacher announces the art project of the day: We will be making Mother’s Day gifts! ….. And you are there, just 9 years old, grieving your mother’s death. Even kind words from your teacher or the option to make something for another special person in your life won’t soften the blow.

 But what do you do on these holidays when your parent has died? What do you do when you feel like you are the only child, teenager or young adult who no longer has that parent to honor? For more than 1,100 children and parents last year, there was one thing that they could do – come to The Dougy Center – where no child has to grieve alone.

 Jenny is one of the young adults that has been helped by The Dougy Center’s programs. A few weeks after Mother’s Day on June 3rd of last year, Jenny’s mother died suddenly while traveling for work. Jenny remembers getting the phone call from her father and the shock that came over her as she tried to process the information. “It was really hard,” she said. “It is still really, really hard. I talked to my mom on the phone pretty much every day. She was my best friend. She was so loved by so many people. It was hard for me to believe she was just suddenly gone.”

 Jenny’s mom, Judy, was a prominent career woman dedicated to her family and community. Jenny remembers the last Mother’s Day they had together when Judy mentioned wistfully that she might retire soon and start giving tours of the Old Town/Chinatown district of Downtown Portland. “Everyone had told her she should do that for years,” said Jenny.  

“My sister and I were kind of dreading Mother’s Day this year,” Jenny went on to share. “I was buying a card and being in that part of the store was hard, seeing commercials on TV was hard too. It was everywhere.” But, twice a month, Jenny finds support at The Dougy Center, where she has attended a grief support group for more than six months.

 “The group feels like a lifesaver to me. There are people who understand and it’s okay to feel however I am feeling in the moment. Even in my family, there seems to be pressure to not bring up my mom or to not be sad. That makes my Dougy Center group even more important for me.”

 Feeling understood is one of the most impactful benefits that your contribution to The Dougy Center is providing to grieving kids, teens, young adults and their surviving parents. Your gift directly supports our Grief Support Group programs – making possible that safe space where grief is okay, where play is okay, and where there are others who understand. Even more than that, your generosity today will help The Dougy Center provide support to more grieving families in more efficient and effective ways. Shorter waiting periods, additional support groups, and more outreach to the community are all parts of our plans for the future.

 Lastly, whether locally, nationally or internationally, The Dougy Center’s mission is this: to provide a safe space for children, teens, young adults and their parents to forge their new path after the death of a loved one. At The Dougy Center, we have the privilege of walking with them along that path. In that spirit, I’d like to share a poem recently given to us from a parent of a Dougy Center child:

Heartbreak Lake                                                                            

Swimming in the lake of my own tears, head barely above water,

feeling like sinking, but my kids are hanging on to me.

So I tread water as hard as I can.

I see an island, so I swim to it. Solid ground at The Dougy Center.

We stand.

Your gift to The Dougy Center helps families get through their grief, in their own way, on their own timeline. Your gift helps grieving families find solid ground. Thank you for your commitment to the families who find comfort and support at The Dougy Center every day.

Jenny and her mom
Jenny and her mom


Feb 20, 2014

I'm not broken

The Dougy Center
The Dougy Center

Aaron was 13 when his mom died by suicide. After her death he returned to school fearful of what his friends and other students at the school would think. In the first few days he was surrounded by a chorus of “I’m sorry for your loss” and “Wow, really?” from close friends, teachers, and also people he’d never spoken to before. That support quickly faded though and was replaced with questions and comments like, “What was wrong with your mom?” “Was she crazy” “Your family must be really messed up.” and “Guess you’re the broken kid now. You know no one ever really gets better after something like that happens.”

 Angry that people would think about him and his family like that, Aaron was also afraid that maybe they were right; maybe he was broken and would always be. A few months later Aaron started in a teen support group at The Dougy Center. He remembers being scared at his first group and worried that the kids there, even though they had all had someone die, would still treat him like there was something wrong with him and his family. At the end of that first group Aaron was amazed by how supportive and understanding the other teens were. No matter how their parent or brother or sister died – cancer, heart attack, drug overdose, car crash – everyone was seen as an equal: teens who were dealing with hard things like grief and changes in their family, but still teens who could keep listening to music, going to school, planning for the future, and dealing with all the day to day things that come with being a teenager. Aaron left that night knowing that he was grieving and sad and angry about his mom’s death, but that he wasn’t broken.

 Aaron and his story is just one out of hundreds of kids and families like his that find their way to The Dougy Center every year. And that number is growing. It is estimated that, in the Portland area, 19,000 (1 in 20) children currently live in homes where a parent or stepparent has died. Grieving children are especially vulnerable to feelings of isolation and anxiety. They may feel isolated from their friends and peers at school. Numerous studies have found that grieving children are at higher risk than their non-bereaved counterparts for issues with depression, negative coping behaviors, regression to earlier developmental stages, trouble concentrating and physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches. This can add an extra burden of stress to the parent or caregiver who is also grieving and readjusting to the changes in life that death can bring, resulting in more difficulties for the family as a whole. The Dougy Center is uniquely prepared to respond to the needs of these families and your support will help us continue to do so.

Reflection: Annual Benefit and Gala and 2014 Porsche Boxster Raffle

The Dougy Center's Annual Benefit and Gala: Reflection is the organization's largest fundraising event for the year and accounts for approximately one-third of the annual operating budget for our grief support group program. The event will be held on May 9th, 2014 at the Portland Art Museum. It includes a silent auction, featuring art by children participating in The Dougy Center's grief support group program as well as wine, travel packages, home decor, and other items donated by local businesses, restaurants and artists. The silent auction is followed by an elegant dinner for over 400 people, testimonial speakers and a live auction. Corporate sponsors contribute a considerable portion of the income for the event, last year totaling over $70,000. Additionally, during the live auction, a "paddle raise" is conducted by the auctioneer encouraging guests to sponsor a Dougy Center child at gift levels starting at $1500, which provides grief support groups for that child for one year. Last year, The Dougy Center raised over $115,000 in child sponsorship funds during this portion of the event. At the conclusion of the evening, the winner of The Dougy Center's annual Porsche Boxster raffle is drawn! The 2014 Porsche Boxster is a beauty and is valued at over $52,500. Only 2,000 tickets are available for sale and tickets are sold for $100 each in the months leading up to the event. Last year, Reflection and the Porsche Boxster raffle raised a combined total of $466,633. Buy your ticket today at!

 The mission of The Dougy Center is to provide a safe place where children, teens, young adults and their families grieving a death can share their experiences.


Reflection: Benefit and Gala
Reflection: Benefit and Gala
2014 Porsche Boxster Raffle
2014 Porsche Boxster Raffle


Nov 21, 2013

Holidays and the Grieving Family

Cooper family
Cooper family

As you might imagine, this time of year can be difficult for grieving children and families. When we're grieving, any day can be filled with memories of the person who died and what our life was like before. During the holidays, this ever-present remembering can be especially poignant...and sometimes overwhelming - whether it's seeing the perfect present, writing out holiday cards, unpacking decorations, or having to find someone to fill the role of the person who died for traditions like carving the turkey or hanging holiday decorations.

One of these families is the Cooper Family who attend The Dougy Center in our newly rebuilt home. Tammy Cooper, Maddy and Kate, 9-year-old twins, and Charlie, their 7-year-old sister, have come to rely on The Dougy Center as a safe place after their father, Kerry, died suddenly of a massive stroke brought on by a brain aneurysm

Tammy learned about The Dougy Center in the way that many families do. First the hospital staff, then friends and acquaintances, then coworkers recommended she call The Dougy Center. When she made the call, she was surprised when she was told they would have to wait to be placed in a group. 

"We waited about a month before we could attend orientation. It was an additional 2-3 months before we were placed in a support group. In all, I think it was about five months after Kerry's death that we finally began attending."

The Dougy Center's new home and increased space is exciting because it means that families like the Cooper's might not have to wait so long to start attending groups after the death of a parent or sibling. But, although our new building has the space, we are now working to raise the funds to expand our program. Shorter waiting periods, additional support groups, and more outreach to the community are all parts of the strategic expansion that our new home makes possible.

"Before we started at The Dougy Center, the girls were the 'odd kids out' at our small school - the kids whose Dad had died. Maddy would sit on the bench during recess and not want to play or interact with any of her friends. I think if she (and the other girls) had been attending The Dougy Center earlier after Kerry died, they would have learned sooner that there are other kids with similar situations....that is it okay to miss their Dad and be sad, but it is also okay to play and laugh."

"I like to be around other kids who understand," says Maddy. "Because at school they might not understand because they haven't had a parent die." Feeling understood is one of the most impactful benefits that The Dougy Center  provides to grieving kids.Here, grief is normalized, not pathologized. No child is ever the "odd kid out" at The Dougy Center.

Whether locally, nationally or internationally, The Dougy Center's mission is this: to provide a safe space for children, teens and their parents to forge their new path after the death of a loved one. At The Dougy center, we have the privilege of walking with them along that path. I hope you will join us as we walk alongside grieving children and families this holiday season. With your support, The Dougy center will be able to help even more families who are beginning their journey through grief. 

 We have a poster at The Dougy center that says:

                           Please don't ask me to get over my grief.

                           Why not ask how to help me get through it?  

 Your gift helps families get through their grief, in their own way, on their own timeline.  We  thank you for your support.

Cooper family 2
Cooper family 2


Aug 21, 2013

Newtown Community Asks The Dougy Center for Help

Twenty years ago, after The Dougy Center was featured on ABC’s “20/20”, we received hundreds of requests from around the world for training so other areas could provide services like ours. The Dougy Center’s national and international trainings since then have spawned over 500 programs throughout the U. S. and into Australia, Japan, Africa, Dubai, and Germany. Among the training requests was one from the Regional Hospice of Western Connecticut in Danbury. Following our program development training, they opened the Healing Hearts Bereavement Center in the mid-90s.

December 14, 2012, the night of the Sandy Hook School shootings, our paths circled back together. Their program director, Joanna, called and asked us to help them as they responded to the needs of the families and community. In January, at their request, I flew to Newtown to lead five gatherings that they had set up. The first was a community gathering at the Newtown Library, with over a hundred people - many of them were Sandy Hook parents whose children were not killed, but were certainly impacted.

Later we met with community leaders, conducted a training for local mental health workers, and spent four hours with staff from the funeral homes who had ministered to the families of the deceased. On January 13, Joanna
and I spent 3-1/2 hours with five of the couples whose children had been senselessly murdered. She introduced me, and here’s the gist of what I shared:

“I’m not here to lecture you, or to tell you what to do, think or feel. You will find your own paths through this. People will show up in wonderful ways that support and assist you on your path. People will also show up in ways that aren’t helpful. People will disappear that you never imagined would do so. And a lot of people will want to give you advice. I have just one piece of advice, and it’s this: Follow your heart…

Over the next several hours, 10 devastated parents opened their hearts to each other, reviewing the events of that terrible day, where they were when they first heard about a shooting at the school, the long horrible wait, the crushing news. They shared story after story of ways family, friends and strangers had tried to make them feel better, often complicating things. They expressed the need to steel themselves for the media onslaught the
following day, the one month anniversary…and they lamented the reality that they had barely been able to begin to digest the fact that their child was dead.

Anguish was shared. No one interrupted, or said anything about “silver linings” or “better places” or that “everything happens for a reason.” Joanna and I barely spoke. We shared tears, and a sacred trust that the journey of grief forever changes us, and that we are helped in this journey by those who are willing to let us grieve deeply, without trying to fix us or make us feel better. We told them we’d stay as long as they wished to, and as we headed
into four hours, it became clear it was time to close the group.

They all said they wanted to meet again the following week, and that they’d personally invite the other families. They said it had been the most helpful time they’d had in the 29 days since their child’s death. I asked what had made it so helpful, and they all agreed with the words of one mother: “This is the first time we’ve been able to say exactly what we’re thinking and feeling without having to ‘be strong’ and without being told what we should or shouldn’t do, what we should or shouldn’t think, and what we should or shouldn’t feel.”

Whether locally, nationally, or internationally, The Dougy Center’s mission is this: to provide a safe space for children, teens and their parents to forge their new path after the death of a loved one. Whether that loss is private, or public, we have the privilege of walking with them along this path. We thank you for helping us to make this possible.

The Dougy Center provides a safe place for children, teens, young adults and their familiy members who are grieving a death. We never charge families a fee and receive no government support, making donations especially important and greatly appreciated.


May 23, 2013

Support The Dougy Center this Memorial Day


This Memorial Day Make A Gift to Help Grieving Children & Families

Rick and LaDeane Palmar met on December 1, 1999, both members of the U.S. Air Force.
After Rick served five tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Qatar, LaDeane
could finally breathe a sigh of relief. TSgt Rick Earl Mathew Palmar had earned a Bronze
Star and was now a training instructor in Explosive Ordnance Disposal at Eglin AFB in
Florida. They had a two-year-old daughter, Makayla. Life was good.

Nothing, however, could have prepared her for what was ahead. Rick suffered a sudden
brain aneurysm just a week before Christmas.
Tragically, 24 hours later, after family members had the opportunity to say their goodbyes,
Rick was removed from life support and died. “After Rick died, my first concern was our
daughter,” LaDeane remembers. “I thought – I’ll deal with me later. How is this going to
affect Makayla?”

LaDeane and Makayla faced additional changes with an immediate move from Florida
to Portland to be near family. A family friend told LaDeane about The Dougy Center.
LaDeane had included Makayla at the hospital and her Dad’s funeral, informing her of
what was happening all along the way. “I wanted her to be a part of it,” she says.
At The Dougy Center, Makayla attends a grief support group with children her own age
who have had a parent die. She likes to play in her favorite play room, the Hospital Room,
a re-creation of a real hospital room. “I very, very, very love sharing about my Dad at The
Dougy Center,” Makayla says. She finds comfort in her cherished “Daddy Doll” and enjoys
sharing her doll with others. LaDeane finds support, comfort and resources with the
parents, grandparents and other caregivers who attend the adult grief support group which
meets at the same time as Makayla’s. “Initially, I thought it was all about the kids, but then
to be with adults who’ve been there and get support from makes a tremendous

The death of an active duty spouse presents unique challenges for the surviving spouse and
their children. This Memorial Day, as we recognize the sacrifices of those who have served
our country, please consider making a contribution to help families like the Palmars. For
just $1,500, you can support a family’s participation at The Dougy Center for a full year.
Your support can truly make a difference.

“I want to say thank you to The Dougy Center’s supporters,” said LaDeane. “This is a place
you never imagine yourself going to, but I can’t even imagine what our lives would have
been like without it.”

The Dougy Center provides a safe place for children, teens, young adults and their family members who are grieving a death. We never charge families a fee and receive no government support, making donations especially important and greatly appreciated. The cost to sponsor a child, teen, or young adult in our peer support program is $1,500 per year. Funds raised for this project will help to cover the cost of child sponsorships, facility rentals, M&M candies, snacks, art supplies, candles for remembrance ceremonies, printer paper and more.

The Dougy Center serves 400 children, teens and young adults, and 250 family members each month. According to U.S. Census data, approximately 19,000 children in the Portland Metro area could benefit from The Dougy Center services.

We are proud to announce that our Annual Gala and Benefit, Reflection was held Friday, May 10th at the Portland Art Museum in downtown Portland and raised over $465,000 to support grieving children and families. This fabulous evening included a silent auction showcasing a gallery of children’s art, an elegant dinner and a live auction filled with unique packages.

Upcoming Events and Trainings:

Volunteer Facilitator Training
will be June 8, 9 and 22. Please download the application from our websit and return it to The Dougy Center. For
questions, please contact Jana DeCristofaro at

Summer Institute will be held July 22 - 26, 2013 Portland,Oregon from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

This program is an opportunity to join The Dougy Center’s experienced and knowledgeable staff for an opportunity to
learn the ins and outs of running a successful grief support program. From program development to working with volunteers to fundraising, this week-long workshop will give you the tools you need to lead peer-to-peer support groups for grieving children, teens and families.



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The Dougy Center

Portland, OR, United States

Project Leader

Brennan Wood

Director of Development & Communications
Portland, Oregon United States

Where is this project located?

Map of The Dougy Center peer grief support groups