Garden State Woman caught up recently with Mary Robinson, Founder of Good Grief, to learn more about how the organization provides education, advocacy and year-round peer support group programs for grieving children, teens and adults.
How long have you been working with Good Grief?
Since our founding in December 2003.
Have you worked in the non profit sector before? If so, in what capacity?
While getting Good Grief up and running I worked as the Director of External Affairs and Development for Homefirst, Inc. and from 2000-2004 I was the Executive Director for the New Jersey State Chapter of Rainbows, Inc. From 1997 – 2000 I ran a consulting company, Robinson & Associates providing grant writing, development consulting and database development for nonprofits.
Have you ever worked in the for-profit world? If so, doing what?
Yes, from 1984 – 1997. First in IT as a Systems Analyst and Information Engineer for Prudential Insurance Company from 1984 – 1992 and then as Manager of Local Initiatives for Prudential Financial from 1992-1997.
Why have you decided to develop your current career in the non profit world?
I wanted to work more hands on in the community. Prudential gave me so many opportunities and helped me develop a wide range of skills from technical to management to training and finally to understanding and developing partnerships between the corporate world and the nonprofit world through employee volunteerism.
Do you recommend other talented women consider focusing their careers in the non-profit sector? What are the pluses and minuses?
I do recommend the nonprofit sector to women for a lot of reasons. What I love about it is the opportunity to be creative, take risks, getting to see firsthand the difference you make and the fulfillment that comes with that
What is your educational background?
Bachelors Degree in English from the
What is the mission of Good Grief? How old is the organization? By whom, why and how was it launched?
Good Grief’s mission is to normalize grief in our society and create resilient communities where children and teens coping with loss grow up emotionally healthy and able to lead meaningful and productive lives. Good Grief provides education, advocacy and year-round peer support group programs for grieving children, teens and adults.Good Grief accomplishes its mission through the Good Grief Center for families coping with loss due to death and through a transformative series of workshops designed to help adults gain the skills, tools and wisdom needed to be companions and mentors in the lives of grieving children and teens.
I was 14 when my father died of cancer in 1974 and the impact of his loss on me and my family is why I got involved in the field of children’s grief support initially as a volunteer in 1997. My personal experience made me determined to ensure that some day all grieving children and teens would have the support they needed from their community when coping with any type of painful loss. I envisioned a place where children and their parents could go all year round to get support and healing and find out they were not alone.
We were incorporated in December 2003 by a small group of individuals including myself who were concerned about the lack of on-going, effective grief support services and grief education in
We launched our Conversations on Grief ™ workshops in 2006 and opened our Center in 2007
How big of a foot print does the organization have geographically? How many children has it served?
We have 245 participants currently enrolled from 66 towns throughout
How do the children come to you for support? Or, how do you find children needing support?
Children and families are referred to Good Grief through guidance counselors, social workers and teachers, hospitals and hospices, funeral homes and clergy, and simply through word of mouth and the family’s support system of friends, neighbors and members of the community.
How do you spend your time and what are your biggest challenges?
I now spend the majority of my time fund raising and speaking and advocating on behalf of grieving children and families.
Tell us a bit about the composition of your board and how has the board evolved since you launched Good Grief. For example....is it bigger or smaller now, have you set specific expectations that you have for board members and have these changed over time, what is the biggest contribution made by the board to the success of the organization? How do you select board members?
We started with a core group of four people on the board serving as our officers in December 2003 when we incorporated. We then grew to nine board members in 2004 and 2005 and currently we have 14 board members with the goal being to grow to 20 members. Our board started out as a typical founding or working board of a small grassroots nonprofit. Everyone was very hands on and helped with everything – from program development to fund raising to creating a business and marketing plan, to building the infrastructure of the organization. There was no staff so the board was truly a working board. It is still a working board but is beginning to evolve from a typical founding board to more of a governing and fund raising board responsible for financial and legal oversight of the organization and raising money
Board members are asked to contribute time and money to the organization and help open doors to additional funding from corporations, individuals and foundations. All board members serve on at least one committee and we have 100% of our board members contributing financially. There are a number of areas of expertise we always look to have filled on the board – that includes legal, financial, marketing, strategic planning and human resources
We select board members now based on their ability to contribute expertise in the above mentioned areas, their ability and willingness to be ambassadors for our mission, and their ability to help us raise money
What is the key to the success of Good Grief?
I think the main key to our success is that the model works. Families tell other families, volunteers tell their friends, and people want to come here – whether for support, to volunteer or to work. But really the key to our success are the people who make Good Grief possible – our volunteers, donors, staff and board
What advice can you share with other women either currently helping lead a non-profit or thinking of starting one?
I think running a nonprofit or any business is a 24/7 commitment. My advice would be to be sure you are passionate about your mission and take care of yourself. It is easy to get burned out. There is no end to the need – no matter the cause – and you are never done.
When you are not working how do you spend your time? What are your interests and passions?
I love hiking, reading, music, yoga, ballroom dancing and spending time with my friends and their children. I am currently attending school for a Masters Degree in Applied Psychoanalysis which grew out of my fascination and interest in what makes people tick, child development and family systems, why human beings suffer and how we can perhaps suffer less.
Loving Listeners Needed
If you love kids and teens and want a make a difference in their lives please consider becoming a Good Grief facilitator. Many of the volunteers tell us the training and this work has changed their lives and that it is the most rewarding thing they do. The role of the volunteer facilitator is to provide a safe, caring and sharing environment where grieving children can express themselves through words, art, drama, writing or physical play. Required skills include a loving and listening heart and the capacity to be with children in pain without trying to fix it. The commitment is to volunteer every other week for approximately four hours on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening. Volunteers attend a 30 hour training.