By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Memories of grief drive those who work and volunteer at The WARM Place. For 30 years, they’ve helped kids and young people deal with loss.
As we enter the two-story home with the welcoming wraparound porch on an early weekday morning, we’re greeted by staff who are prepping for clients later that day. We wander through the various rooms — from the comfortably furnished living room where adults meet to the one with tiny chairs for the smallest children. We peruse the artwork and read the notes on the wall left by children grieving the death of a parent or a sibling. We spot the pillows they hug during group sessions.
We can’t imagine what it’s like to be 7 years old and have to deal with death. But pretty much everyone at The WARM Place knows about the wake of pain and confusion and fear it leaves behind. “WARM” is an acronym for “what about remembering me.” It’s what staff — and volunteers — have focused on for 30 years.
Peggy Bohme lost her teenage son in 1984. New to Fort Worth, she felt lost, as did her young daughter. She tried with little luck to find help for her. She found an open heart and welcoming hand in pediatrician John Richardson, who attended the same church as Bohme. Together they envisioned a place where people, especially kids and young adults, could express their feelings and find emotional support. Bohme and Richardson founded The WARM Place in 1989, the first center for grief support in Texas and one of only a handful in the country.
While Bohme retired 10 years ago, she remains active at the nonprofit. The recent death this past spring of Richardson, her colleague and friend as well as a Fort Worth community leader, is still weighing heavily on her and the staff. Grief knows no age limitations.
“John adopted our family when we moved to Fort Worth and helped us deal with a huge, empty void after our son died. And then he went on to help so many others. I credit him for making The WARM Place a reality and emphasizing a people-to-people connection,” says Bohme. “I’m just honored that they allow me to continue to be part of it all.”
Like Bohme, board president Joe Regan has a deep connection with the group’s mission.
An attorney, Regan started out as a volunteer before becoming a board member. “When I was 9, my father passed away. I wish there had been something like The WARM Place around back then. In 2005, I lost my brother when he was 40, and I could see how much it affected my young niece and nephew,” says Regan. “I could relate to what they were feeling. It made me want to learn more about how to help children.” In training to become a facilitator Regan reexperienced emotions about deaths in his own family. “It became very personal, but helped me become more in tune with the children in my group.”
Shelley Spikes, executive director, moved up from volunteer to events and public relations director to her current position about two years ago. She had just completed her facilitator training when her father died. Spikes was 25. “I got so much inspiration from the children,” says Spikes, who also knew John Richardson well. “This is indeed a place of hope. With Dr. John, he gave so much that you wanted to do the same.”
Spikes says the need has only grown as The WARM Place turns 30. “We’ve served 38,000 families since opening and currently have 284 families enrolled and serve clients from 13 counties. We’re excited that we’ve become a model for other groups, too. Going forward, we know the need is out there. We’re just trying to figure out how best to grow to meet those needs.”
One of the striking statistics is the age range of children who turn to The WARM Place for help. The youngest group is made up of 3½- to 5-year-olds. “Death affects all of us,” says Spikes. “We say if you’re old enough to love, you’re old enough to grieve.”