Our Story

The beginning of the organization we know today as the National Alliance for Children’s Grief (NACG) began when a small collection of individuals met at a National Conference on Loss and Transition in 1996. The conference, hosted by New England Center for Loss and Transition and focused on supporting children and adults who were grieving. These individuals recognized the importance of supporting children after a death and the gap in dedicated resources and support for them and those who supported them.

Driven as a collective to address this gap in support, they created the first and only dedicated national symposium on children’s grief. Their hard work was realized at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1997, when the first National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support took place. Under the leadership of Mary Ann and Jim Emswiler, the event was hosted by the New England Center for Loss and Transition. The symposium brought many participants who were eager to learn from each other, and the value of shared information and networking became evident. Together participants felt better equipped, stronger, and supported.

In 1998, the second symposium, hosted by Fernside Center for Grieving Children, was held at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Seeking to build on the community created through the symposium, conversations began about joining together in a more formal way to organize an ongoing national effort. The goal was to understand and support best practices and raise awareness about children’s grief. The symposium continued annually, hosted by centers around the nation, remaining the only conference dedicated to childhood bereavement.

In 2002, at the symposium, a small group re-ignited the previous conversation on a national organization as it was becoming apparent that a more formal, centralized effort was not just justified but essential. An informal group of leaders began the process of creating an organization. The Judith A. Griese Foundation provided funding, and Mary Ann Emswiler was hired as a consultant to bring that vision to life. In 2003, as the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas hosted the 7th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support in San Antonio, Texas, Mary Ann Emswiler presented a proposal to create a nonprofit, the National Alliance for Grieving Children. The idea was enthusiastically received, and following that meeting, an Interim Board of Directors was established along with an Executive Advisory Council and an Advisory Council. A 501 c 3 application was submitted in the state of Colorado, Articles of Incorporation were filed in February 2004, and tax-exempt status was recognized in 2005. What had begun as a gathering of interested individuals was now officially a nonprofit organization.

A grant from A Little Hope in 2006 seeded the growth of the fledgling organization providing funding for a website and a strategic planning retreat in Chicago for founding board members. Annual symposiums continued in states across the US, hosted by grief centers, each with a growing number of participants. In 2009, founding board members met with the New York Life Foundation (NYLF). The NAGC strategic plan was presented, and a NYLF partnership, which continues to this day, began. The symposium continued to larger audiences annually, and with the benefit of funding, the organization was building strength and laying the groundwork for longevity.

As the organization continued to grow, the need for full-time staff became apparent. From October 2011 through 2017, Andy McNiel led the organization as the first full-time staff member. In September 2017, Vicki Jay was hired as Chief Executive Officer, a position she continues to hold today.

In 2020, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the organization convened the field at a critical point where uncertainty on how to successfully deliver programs was met with unprecedented need in the communities we serve across the country. The pandemic was a very challenging time across our nation, especially for the many children due to the high number of deaths. The NAGC was very responsive to needs by developing needed resources to provide support during the pandemic.

Today, the organization is stronger than at any point in its history. Our symposium continues along with education across the year, member connections, and national awareness campaigns. We create free resources through our workgroup structure. These resources are unique in that they provide the insight of practitioners who are actively working in the field and who volunteer their time for the benefit of all. In 2021, the organization’s name was officially changed to National Alliance for Children’s Grief (NACG), honoring person-first language.

Initial Leaders:

Mary Ann Emswiler, New England Center for Loss and Transition, Guilford, Connecticut

Brian Griese Judi’s House, Denver, Colorado

Founding Board:

Greg Adams, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Little Rock, Arkansas

Laurie Baumer, Ele’s Place, Lansing, Michigan

Anne Lynch, Center for Grieving Children, Portland, Maine

Mary McCutchen, Fernside Center for Grieving Children, Cincinnati, Ohio

Stefanie Norris, Willow House, Chicago, Illinois

Amy Liebman Rapp, The Sanctuary, Larchmont, New York

Donna Schuurman, Dougy Center, Portland, Oregon

Others who supported the creation of the NACG:

Martha Jo Atkins – Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, San Antonio Texas

Charles LaValle – The Highmark Foundation & The Highmark Caring Place, Pittsburgh, PA.

Andrea Laurier – The Highmark Caring Place, Pittsburgh, PA.

Margaret Rhyne, Judi’s House (retired), Denver, Colorado

Deb-Smith-Jones – Margaret Ann’s Place, Kenosha, Wisconsin

Organizational Leadership:

Barbara Clarke, Part-time Executive Director (volunteer)

Andy McNiel – Chief Executive Officer, 2011-2017

Vicki Jay – Chief Executive Officer, 2017 – Current

SYMPOSIUM HISTORY

  • 1st National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio organized & hosted by the New England Center for Loss and Transition co-founders Mary Ann and Jim Emswiler.
  • 2nd National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio hosted by Fernside Center for Grieving Children (Cincinnati, Ohio).
  • 3rd National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Ann Arbor, Michigan hosted by Arbor Hospice & Home Care
  • 4th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Portland, Oregon hosted by The Dougy Center
  • 5th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Portland, Maine hosted by the Center for Grieving Children in Maine
  • 6th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – St Louis, Missouri hosted by The St. Louis Bereavement Center for Young People d/b/a/Annie’s Hope The Bereavement Center for Kids
  • 7th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – San Antonio, Texas hosted by the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas
  • 8th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania hosted by the Highmark Caring Place
  • 9th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Denver, Colorado hosted by Judi’s House
  • 10th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Chicago, Illinois hosted by Willow House and Buddy’s Place
  • 11th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Birmingham, Alabama hosted by The Amelia Center/Children’s Hospital of Alabama
  • 12th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Houston, Texas hosted by Bo’s Place
  • 13th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Long Beach, California hosted by Michelle Post/One Legacy and Lauren Schneider /Our House
  • 14th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Cleveland, Ohio hosted by Cornerstone of Hope
  • 15th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Boston, Massachusetts hosted by The Children’s Room
  • 16th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Orlando, Florida hosted by New Hope for Kids
  • 17th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Phoenix, Arizona hosted by New Song Center for Grieving Children
  • 18th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Atlanta, Georgia hosted by Kate’s Club
  • 19th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Portland, Oregon hosted by the Dougy Center
  • 20th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Indianapolis, Indiana hosted by Brooke’s Place for Grieving Young People, Ryan’s Place, and Erin’s House for Grieving Children
  • 21st National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Richmond, Virginia hosted by Comfort Zone Camp
  • 22nd National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – San Antonio, Texas hosted by the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas
  • 23rd National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Salt Lake City, Utah hosted by The Sharing Place
  • [NAGC Virtual event- In Community June 17-19, 2020]
  • 24th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Virtual
  • 25th National Symposium on Children’s Grief Support – Orlando, Florida hosted by New Hope for Kids