Though the grief over losing a loved one may never go away, Jennifer White sees how it can be transformed over time.
She’s the founder of the Hope After Project, an organization that creates volunteer opportunities in memory of people who have died.
The concept grew out of White's own loss.
In 2011, when White was 23, her mother took her own life. White spent months lost in the fog of grief. The pain overshadowed her lifelong memories of an intelligent, loving parent and kind spirit.
As the two-year anniversary of her mother's death approached, White began seeking a new way to remember and honor their relationship. She found it while helping a volunteer group paint a school, a project similar to one her mother had participated in years earlier.
“People focus so much on the way she died. But she had this whole other life,” White says. “I wouldn't want to be judged by the darkest time of my life. I would want people to remember me by the happy, positive things I did in this world.”
Through the Hope After Project, White helps those bereaving a loss by finding projects centered on the interests of their loved ones who have passed away. She reaches out to local nonprofits and community groups to customize service opportunities and recruit volunteers.
Anyone can request a memorial project, and there's no cost to the recipient.
Recently, White worked with two siblings in Kansas City, Mo., who wanted to honor their mother by helping ailing cancer patients. Their mother had died of colon cancer seven years ago. White’s organization partnered with the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge program, which provides free housing to cancer patients and their families.
About 35 volunteers cleaned the entire Hope Lodge facility in Kansas City, cooked a meal, did arts and crafts projects and visited with cancer patients. The project went so well, White is planning more events with Hope Lodge locations around the country.
Another Hope After Project in Los Angeles gathered volunteers at an animal shelter, called Kitten Rescue, to groom and play with cats. The project applicant was a woman who wanted to memorialize her brother and his love of cats.
In just over a year, White has completed six projects around the U.S. They have included cleaning community areas, assembling military care packages and caring for trees.
Recipients can participate in as much or as little of the organizing as they want. They only need to show up. White coordinates fundraising for the projects using online tools and community partners, including the Creative Visions Foundation and Daily Point of Light honoree Kathy Eldon.
Some participants have returned to past projects and continued volunteering, White said. Though the projects last only one day, White hopes their impact stretches beyond their communities through the photos and videos taken at some projects and shared online, which White calls “living memorials.” (Watch a short Hope After Project video here.)
“I feel really honored that I get to hear about people’s loved ones that have passed away,” White says. “And I feel even more honored that I get to build Hope After Projects for them.”