Columnist: Judi’s House — No child should be alone in grief

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 2, 2015

DENVER — If you follow the sports pages, then you know about Brian Griese, the winner of a national championship at Michigan and an NFL quarterback with a Super Bowl ring, but chances are you don’t know about his charity – perhaps the most special charity to which any professional athlete has ever given his time, energy, and resources.

Kids naturally hurt when they lose a parent but, it is gut wrenching when you lose your mother on whom you are so emotionally dependent in those precocious years. This is what happened to Brian. When Judi passed away at age 44 from cancer, Brian became enraged and was inconsolable.

He was angry and had nowhere to turn. His famous father, Bob, quarterback of the undefeated Dolphins in 1972, was a devoted and caring father and did what he could for Brian and his brothers. Nonetheless, Brian felt alone. The devastation was overwhelming.

Today, Judi’s House, named for Brian’s late mother, is a $5 million nonprofit that administers to both children and adults. His partner is his pretty wife, Brook, who co-founded the charity with Brian and is a PhD who serves as executive director. The mission of Judi’s House is “… to help children and families grieving a death find connection and healing.”

Last year, as the annual report details, Judi’s House provided “free, high-quality care” to over 1,000 grieving children and caregivers. The vision of Judi’s House is that no child should be alone in grief.

Brian Griese is a man who knows what it is like to own a national title ring, a Rose Bowl ring and a Super Bowl ring, but nothing is more rewarding than to see grief-stricken kids become emotionally rehabilitated after spending time at Judi’s House.

Many of the children who come to Judi’s House feel they are the only ones experiencing the loss of someone close to them. Bringing children and teens together with peers their age who have had a loved one to die is such an important ingredient in what makes our program effective. In addition, having caregivers share and learn from each others’ experience allows them to gain strength by connecting with others who are grieving as well.

That summation is based on experience which Brian and Brook have learned as they engage, in addition to the work and efforts of volunteers who are benevolent and kind-hearted, others with professional training to enhance their program and effort. Much of it originates at home.

Brook is a clinical psychologist whose advanced degree came at Colorado Boulder, which allowed for her path to cross with Brian’s. Their common interests drew them together and made for a most valuable team doing good works in a major league city where the first cheeseburger was trademarked.

With Brook coming from a rural county in the state of Michigan, there was a strong influence at home on her career path; her father was director of social services in the county and her mother was a psychiatric nurse. Her devotion to children was established early on as she engaged in the difficult work of counseling survivors of child abuse and family violence. She and Brian make a great team, and the children of Denver are the beneficiary.

With Brian, an insightful color analyst for ESPN during college football season, there is enhanced opportunity for fundraising because of his connections in the sports arena. His annual dinner brings superstars to Denver in support of Judi’s House and in turn, enables Judi’s House to raise big dollars to support its altruistic programs.

Small handprints line the walls of an 1899 house, which has a homey rather than clinical feel, and are touching testimonials that confirm the good works of Judi’s House. “Cry hard,” one kid wrote, “these people want to help you.” There is a padded room with padded balls which kids can kick slam about to vent their anger.

One former client had this perspective: “I can tell you that Judi’s House gave me skills – like being able to recognize, express, and cope with grief, and then find hope and know that I can heal. That healing allowed me to grow, and I’ve been able to push myself and do so many things since my mom died – all because I know that I can work through something really hard.”

The entire National Football League, beset with off-the-field problems, should be high-fiving Bob Griese at every turn. Of all the charity work in sports with which I am familiar, I am most impressed with what Brian Griese has done in his community.

Since the NFL is a franchise operation, it should find a way to set up a Judi’s House across the league. And while they are at it, maybe they can do something for Ray Rice and the growing issues of domestic violence.