This year I will be working at Jeff’s Place, a children’s bereavement center in Framingham, MA. I got the gig through New Sector Alliance, an organization that matches young professionals with nonprofits that may not have the resources or klout to attract young talent. New Sector runs a few weeks of training, focusing on strategies around teamwork, strategic problem solving, and the social sector broadly, and then we spend the rest of the year at our host sites, with training days mixed in every few weeks.
So I’ve been at Jeff’s Place for a few weeks now, and it’s already been somewhat of a rollercoaster. I’ve been hired to do communications — PR, Marketing, and (shhh… fundraising, though I can’t call it that, as we’re funded through Americorps). Jeff’s Place was founded by Jenny Schreiber, a powerhouse of a social worker who has, with a dedicated team of volunteers, built this organization to serve more than 100 families in the metrowest area. Jeff’s Places’ funding is therefore almost entirely dependent on Jenny’s network, which, while immense, ultimately does have a limit. We currently have a wait-list to accept new families into our services, and due to resource constraints, we can’t meet the demand.
So my job is to make friends with local institutions and individuals to broaden our funding network. It’s an interesting challenge which presents the fundamental question — why would businesses or individuals want to partner with (read: donate to) Jeff’s Place?
For the families involved, Jeff’s Place seems to be a game-changer. As someone who has directly dealt with significant loss, the resulting feeling of being different from the rest of the crowd, the aloneness, is truly overbearing. I personally had to radically change my expectations of myself, as if the jenga blocks hadn’t just been toppled but rather consumed by a wood chipper and spat out into a vat of oil and flame. Loss is intense, and people react to it in myriad strange and unpredictable ways.
Jeff’s Place gets this. The first two days of training at Jeff’s were some of the most intense hours of reflection of my life, barring the incident itself. It essentially consisted of dissecting every aspect of death and bereavement, every permutation of loss and the journey thereafter. Jenny and Melissa, the program director, are truly experts in the field and understand better than anyone I’ve ever talked to that you don’t get over it, you learn to live with it.
And community can help. I never found this in my recovery, this ‘community’ that ‘got it’, and while I remember that I was pointedly not interested in finding it at the time, preferring to do my grieving alone, I was also 19 at the time, and Jeff’s Place is for children ages 3-18. Jenny and Melissa have seen their peer-based support groups work wonders, helping to normalize the abnormal and make not-okay OK.
So here’s where it all stands: I think Jeff’s Place is doing important work, and I will figure out precisely why other people should feel the same way, and hopefully that will translate into meaningful partnerships so that the institution can continue to grow. I feel privileged to be able to call this cause my own, as it was already my own, but now I have a way to make a small but larger difference for others who might find these services to be useful.
If anyone reading this knows of any organizations, business, or individuals who would be interested in donating, hosting fundraisers, or otherwise helping Jeff’s Place to grow, please contact me!
Thank you for reading.