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Grief: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

by Rachel Livinal, Art from Ashes Beat Writer

New Hope Grief Support Community helps grieving people with their services.

We all know that it will happen at some point, but when it comes, we’re never fully prepared. 

New Hope Grief Support Community is a nonprofit organization located on the corner of Long Beach Blvd. and E 35th St. The nonprofit focuses on helping people from all ages and backgrounds process grief from losing the ones closest to them. 

The support groups are what separate New Hope from the pack. Most staff at New Hope have lost someone close to them, and there is a familial and comforting sense about helping those who have experienced the same thing.

David Leonard, the Executive Director at New Hope, started as an attendee before working his way up in the ranks. 

He said he discovered the nonprofit in hopes of helping some of the members from the program he was running at the time through The Salvation Army Liberty Program, which focused on providing services to veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Among these services, was the need for mental health wellness. When he found out about New Hope, they immediately offered a hand, but not just to his members.

“About six months before I had taken that job, I had experienced a loss myself. My mom had died suddenly,” Leonard said. “So as I was working with these veterans and their families, it was triggering for me. I was what I would call a ‘high functioning griever.’ I went to work, I had a job, I had a girlfriend, I did everything that the world said I should be doing, but I knew deep down that I was off.”

Not too long after being connected, Leonard went out to lunch with a woman from New Hope, Susan. 

“We hit it off and started talking about the veterans and we figured out how we were going to help them,” Leonard said. “[And] as we were done talking about that and I was done eating my sandwich, she looks across the table and then she tells me, ‘So David, what are you doing with all your grief?’”

Leonard, like many others, began attending one of her groups, and never left the nonprofit. 

“85% of our group facilitators are group alumni,” Leonard said. “So they’ve participated in our program. [This is] the way that they make meaning of their loss: by coming back and helping others through their grief journey.”

Janet Pottebaum, 75, is now a group facilitator, and she found the organization when she started looking for a bereavement group about a year after losing her husband. 

She said the reason she decided to stay with New Hope after attending several others was “the sharing that went on, the curriculum [that gave] me tools to use, to help myself…[it] taught me to know when someone else dies….You say their name and you say, ‘I’m here for you.’”

Pottebaum said what makes her want to help others is the unexpected path of grief that somehow keeps on giving. 

“Everybody has their own grief journey, no matter who you lose. Grief never stops, and there are times when it gets bad, and there are days that are just wonderful.”

-Janet Pottebaum

Leonard said the organization tries to reach the community by addressing their clients’ greatest needs for their grief. Some of these activities include: running support groups for bereavement, training educators and counselors at Long Beach Unified School District and working with therapists and professionals. 

“About 2.5 million people die in the United States annually, each leaving an average of five grieving people behind,” according to The Recovery Village. Grief stems from death, and it comes in many forms. 

Over the course of the pandemic, grief has grown from the deaths of loved ones, daily routines, friendships, and other aspects of daily life. 

“We’ve battled the pandemic, like every other organization, [by] doing Zoom [and] doing in-person when you can safely,” Leonard said speaking about the online approach for support groups. “But it’s been a dance back and forth. We had 5 support groups set up for the first [and] second week of January, and we had to move all of them back to Zoom.”

He said that they are hoping to get back to in-person support groups by February. The organization will also be hosting an event called Healing Art for the Heart Mosaic Workshop on Feb. 26. The event is free to register and can be accessed through New Hope’s event page.

In the meantime, the organization is looking to do all they can, with most of their members providing support that they wanted to receive or did receive from the nonprofit when they lost their loved one.

“We are just trying to keep our arms wrapped around all the grieving people in our city,” Leonard said. 

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