Normalizing the Conversation Surrounding Grief

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When most people think of someone with a competitive spirit, they may not always assume they also have a softer, more caring side. Jaime Counterman, newly announced Director of Ele's Place Grand Rapids, defies that logic.

West Michigan native Jaime Counterman has spent her career in the philanthropy realm, having most recently served as the Development Officer of Metro Health – University of Michigan Health Hospital Foundation, where she was responsible for increasing philanthropic support through major gifts, special events, annual giving initiatives, grants and more. She's also served on multiple boards for community organizations around West Michigan—one of them being Ele's Place, since 2016.

Unfortunately, 1 in 12 kids will experience the death of a family member or sibling by age 18.

"When I learned about Ele's Place and their mission years ago at the Healing Hearts Breakfast, I basically cried and threw my money at them and asked how I could help," Jaime said.

And when the Grand Rapids' Director position for the Michigan-based organization opened up, Jaime knew what to do.

"It felt like the right move and I was ecstatic to be able to serve Ele's Place in a professional capacity."

Ele's Place was established in 1991 and is named to honor Ele Stover, who died in 1989 at the age of 11 months. Today, the organization is devoted entirely to serving the needs of grieving children through four branches that offer completely free programming, located in Lansing, Flint, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids.

"Previously, there wasn't an organization in Michigan that served families and children in the realm of grief like Ele's Place does," said Jaime. "When we think about death and grief, the thought doesn't usually go to the children first."

Ele's Place's programs are funded through philanthropic support and are always free to those who need their support.

The Grand Rapids chapter was started in 2013 by three founding families: Anjey and Ryan Reynolds, Ken Hamstra, and Adam Starr were traveling each week from West Michigan to Ele's Place in Lansing for programming. The families saw the need in Grand Rapids and set out on a mission to bring Ele's Place to West Michigan. Jaime notes that Ele's Place has created a peer-to-peer opportunity for children dealing with loss.

"There's so much strength and value in peer-to-peer interactions," said Jaime. "It truly helps to move them through grief while healing and normalizing their lives."

Ele's Place takes this one step further by offering Ele's Group—a peer-to-peer opportunity available in schools, in addition to on-site programing.

As Director, Jaime says she hopes to continue to grow Ele's Place's services through awareness and would like to help remove the stigma surrounding grief and normalize the conversation around death.

"We're at a jumping point—celebrating five years in Grand Rapids and serving approximately 600 kids in the community." 

When asked what women who want to get involved can do, Jaime offered several options.

"Social media! Spread the word! Be a voice and let the people you know that Ele's Place exists and is here to help. Attend one of our events. We're always looking for volunteers."

Outside of work, what does Jaime do for fun?

"I'm an avid trap shooter and shoot clay pigeons in a sporting league at Madison Square Sportsman Club in Belmont," said Jaime. "It's something my husband introduced to me about seven or eight years ago and I love it. I've got a competitive nature at heart."

One of three subcategories of competitive clay pigeon shooting, trap shooting is something Jaime is certainly successful at: She won the Ladies High Trap Shoot Off for her Spring League Series while three months pregnant.

"It's a great stress reliever!"

Learn more about Jaime Counterman and Ele's Place Grand Rapids.

JaimeCounterman-HeadshotJaime Counterman, Director of Ele's Place Grand Rapids.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.


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