Losing a loved one at a very young age herself, Jaime Counterman, the new Director of
, emphasizes that all kids experiencing grief should have access to compassionate support as they heal.
Rapid Growth: How did you first get involved with Ele’s Place
Jaime Counterman: I first attended the Ele’s Place Healing Hearts Breakfast in 2016. After experiencing their mission powerfully through this fundraising breakfast, I like to say I cried, threw my money at them, and asked how else I could help. I was invited to join the Board in 2016, and in 2017 was asked to serve as GR Community Board co-chair. So when the director position became open this year, it felt like the right move for me to lead the organization in a professional capacity.
RG: What is the overarching mission of the organization?
JC: Ele’s Place is a nonprofit, community-based organization dedicated to creating awareness of and support for grieving children, teens, and their families. We are here to ensure that no child grieves alone and has access to compassionate support.
RG: How do most families learn about Ele’s Place?
JC: The majority of families learn of our organization through word of mouth (family, friends, schools, first responders, etc.) as well as from referral partners in the community, and some from our billboards.
RG: In any way, do you feel personally connected to the mission of Ele’s Place?
JC: I have a very personal connection to our mission. As a young adult, I experienced the death of my 21 year-old cousin Heather to cancer. Her death not only fundamentally changed me as a person, but deeply affected the other kids in our family. Ele’s Place was not yet in Grand Rapids, and I want to ensure that, moving forward, all kids experiencing grief can have access to compassionate support as they heal.
RG: Under your leadership, what do you hope to bring to the organization?
JC: As we celebrate five years of healing hearts in West Michigan, first and foremost I hope to increase awareness of our services. Since 2013, we have supported approximately 600 grieving youth and their families through onsite and school-based programming, but we know the need is larger and that we can help so many more children. Second, because grief is so isolating, I hope this awareness helps normalize the conversation around experiencing death, which helps the healing process. Third, programming here is free for families, so we are entirely dependent on the generosity of individual and community donors. As such, building strong community relationships for philanthropic support is a high priority as a critical component to our continued success.
RG: You are passionate about connecting individuals and companies to a mission. What have you found to be the key to finding a successful fit?
JC: The key to this for me is having authentic conversations about where people’s — or an organization’s — passions lie, and then making the connection to how someone can activate that passion through supporting our work here at Ele’s Place.
RG: What goes into maintaining their commitment?
JC: Genuine gratitude, transparent communication, and opportunities to personally engage. Donors and volunteers want to know that their commitment is truly serving the mission and they want to see the outcomes of that support, either through reporting methods or the chance to individually, or collectively, volunteer.
RG: What other local leaders inspire you?
JC: West Michigan is fortunate to have a plethora of highly engaged community leaders! A couple with whom I’ve had the good fortune to work is Mike and Rachel Mraz. They both professionally and personally commit to the improvement of our community on micro and macro levels. They are each fierce advocates for the missions they support and generously give of their time as well as treasure. Just as important, they see the value in developing the next wave of community leaders. I’m honored to follow their example in serving our community.
Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.