As a 7 year old, Jill Horner lost her mother to breast cancer. Although her mother had battled the disease for most of her life, Jill was unprepared for her death and the grief that followed in her family. Although her family was loving, they never shared their feelings of loss, anger, sadness and guilt. Many years later, as an adult, Jill attended a seminar on children and grief. She finally understood the feelings she had as a child and how unresolved grief had impacted her whole family.
God used this discovery to inspire a conversation at the funeral of a teacher, Kaye Brown Martin. Hospice caregiver, Patty Dickens was touched by the gracious way Kaye approached her last days. Patty and Jill began to discuss ways that Kaye’s life work as a teacher, Patty’s passion for helping others, and Jill’s experience with grief as a child could support children and their families through grief. Although Kaye had transitioned to heaven, her life and death inspired the conversation that became the catalyst for Heart of the Cumberland. Her family helped make the dream a reality by providing the seed money for training in the peer-support model that is the foundation of our ministry.
Soon after that initial conversation, at Kaye’s funeral, teacher Paula King joined the conversation and helped expand the vision to include many different kinds of losses that affect children, including parent’s divorce, separation, incarceration and deployment.
Through the efforts of this team of founders, along with volunteers Jeanette Copeland Crawford and Nancy Fallows, Heart of the Cumberland was birthed. With the help of our first Director Nanci Dalton, a team of dedicated board members, trained volunteer facilitators and Stevens Street Baptist Church, Heart of the Cumberland opened its doors on February 24, 2009, providing a safe, nurturing place for grieving families to process their grief.
Soon after the first Christ-centered peer support groups were launched, the goal to develop a unique school-based curriculum in Putnam County, TN was initiated. Donna Thorne, Sissy Vick, and a team of facilitators developed the Journey of Hope TN BEST Groups curricula, the first of its kind in Tennessee. The development of Journey of Hope TN BEST Groups paved the way for peer support groups to be used in schools to reach more children and teens. Paula King championed the launch of BEST Groups in Putnam County Schools, reaching hundreds of students each year.
All of our community and Putnam County school-based peer support groups are provided free of charge to participants and are funded through the generosity of individuals, businesses and churches.