Q&A: The Warm PlaceNovember 27, 2013
Located in Fort Worth’s hospital district in a cozy “house” that looks like one your grandparents built, The WARM Place has been mending the hearts of grieving children since 1989.
The nonprofit organization has already started celebrating its 25th anniversary and has numerous events slated for the spring and summer.
The agency started in 1984 when Peggy Bohme began searching for emotional support for her young daughter after the death of her teenage son, Michael. She teamed up with Dr. John Richardson, a well-known Fort Worth pediatrician who also recognized the unmet needs of grieving children. The two spent five years raising money to open the first grief support center for children in Texas.
The WARM (What About Remembering Me) Place provides year-round grief support services to children ages 3 1/2 up to 25 and their families who have experienced the death of a close family member. With the help of counselors and volunteers, children and families attend free, weekly peer support groups to help their healing process.
“Grief is very isolating,” said Executive Director Shirley Bowen. “The children come to The WARM Place feeling they are the only ones who have experienced a loss. They meet with other children who have had a similar loss and are able to share their stories in a nurturing environment. The more they verbalize their feelings and hear other children’s stories, it helps them process the loss not only in their heads but also in their hearts, and that is how the healing begins.”
Bowen grew up in Fort Worth and attended Paschal High School. While doing graduate work in counseling at Dallas Baptist University, she became aware of The WARM Place and began volunteering as a facilitator in 2000. She joined the staff as the volunteer director in 2007 after a 40-year career in the corporate world. She was named the executive director in February 2012.
“This is by far the best job I have ever had,” she said. “I love to speak to organizations about our agency and find it very gratifying to witness the transformation of these children during their involvement at The WARM Place.”
How has The WARM Place changed and grown over the past 25 years?
The WARM Place has always had wonderful supporters – from its first five years of development, through the next 25 years of helping over 30,000 children and their families. We started in a little house, donated by Cook Children’s Medical Center, with eight families attending our program. Now we are in a new house, also funded by generous donations, and we currently have 376 children and their families enrolled. While the facilities, staff and clientele have grown, our mission has never changed – we are here to offer free grief support to children and their families, to companion them through their grief process, and to love, support and encourage them in their feelings.
What impact has the organization had on the community?
The WARM Place was the first grief support center for children in Texas, and remains the only one in Tarrant County. We serve as a model for grief support centers throughout the United States and we have provided consultation and professional training in more than 19 states. Our counseling team collaborates with local schools and universities and conducts Children’s Grief Workshops to provide teachers and counselors strategies they can use in the classroom to help students who have experienced the death of a loved one.
The WARM Place founded the Bluebonnet Council for children’s grief centers in Texas. Held annually, the council shares best practices in the field of children’s grief therapy and experiences on how we can better assist children and families in the communities we serve. Additionally, we host tours of The WARM Place “house,” participate in community awareness fairs and provide speakers for special events and meetings upon request.
The investment that The WARM Place makes in children – helping them reestablish a normal routine, and helping them know how to express their feelings in a healthy way – works to produce contributing members of society who have a realistic grasp on their own thoughts, emotions and lives.
Why is grief support necessary for children?
Children grieve differently than adults. When children experience the death of someone they love, they often experience loss of self, loss of safety and security, and loss of purpose. Grief support is essential for these children so that they can understand reality, know what to expect for their future, and realize that they are not being left alone. Knowing that grieving is a normal process, and being encouraged to express their emotions, worries, and concerns, is key to these children understanding the death and how their lives are affected by it.
What is your vision for the future of the organization?
My vision for the future is to continue to support the children of Tarrant and surrounding counties as they progress on their grief journey. We have stayed true to our original mission for soon to be 25 years and remain the only grief center for children located in Tarrant County. To sum it up, I would say, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”
Why do you see value in being involved with The WARM Place? What role does a volunteer play in a child’s grief process?
Our volunteers are equipped with five training classes where they not only learn how children grieve and how adults can help, but they are also encouraged to express their own grief process and learn to apply The WARM Place techniques in their own lives. The children and families who walk through our doors have experienced something that has shaken the foundation of their lives. As a WARM Place volunteer, it is an honor to be able to listen, support and companion people through what is most likely the hardest thing they have ever gone through. Some nights are full of laughter and fond memories, some nights there is anger and resentment, and some nights are just sad. Our volunteers are the people who provide a safe place for all these emotions to be expressed.
What other ways can people help?
We are always looking for volunteers to be group facilitators and house parents. You can also help by referring families who may need our services, collecting items off our Wish List on our website, liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter, and keeping The WARM Place in mind for your end-of-year donations, estate planning, honoring or memorializing a loved one, and employee matching opportunities.