Dream Cheerleaders

By Kate Atwood, Founder of Kate’s Club

There is a story behind Kate’s Club that isn’t told often. It is one of a young woman sitting across from her father telling him her dream. I remember that night so well. My dad Bill had come down to Atlanta from my hometown for a visit. We went out to eat at Anis, a nice French restaurant in the heart of Buckhead. At the time, I was 22 and working at a sports marketing agency, but my dad knew of my growing passion for working with kids who had lost a loved one, through my experience at a camp in Virginia.

As we ate our dinner, I began sharing about how I was trying to find something here in Atlanta that worked with kids who had lost a parent, similar to the camp. While I had found a couple of support groups, I had this bigger vision for a place that was more than just about the grief; it was about life. My dad, an artist at his core, began doodling on a napkin (always a sign that I got him thinking). After five minutes of my non-stop chatter, my father just looked up at me and said, “You should just build something here.”

He then pushed the little cocktail napkin he had been doodling on and presented me with “Kate’s Club”.

Kate and Dad

Kate and her dad

I looked at him very puzzled and uttered something along the lines of, “I can’t do that – start an organization and run a business.” My father disagreed plainly and said, “Yes you can.” It was right there at that dinner table that we came up with Kate’s Club, the core model of the social outings, and the key values being that it had to be fun and empowering. That moment was one of the most magical moments in my life. For that brief moment, the huge mountain that I was about to climb in launching Kate’s Club was nowhere in my sight. Perhaps some other person would have told me about that mountain and how hard it would be to climb and to do something as big as start a non-profit, but not my Dad. That moment was about my dad believing in his young daughter’s dream, and it was when I felt how powerful “dream cheerleaders” are in life.

I get to celebrate with my dad today, but I know so many children do not. However, it does bring me peace that they have Kate’s Club. One of the pieces about Kate’s Club that makes the whole experience work for our kids is our Buddies. It’s not written in a job description or part of our strategic plan, but it is one of the most critical roles our Buddies play: they are our dream cheerleaders. They believe in our kids so much that it can make all the difference in the world to a young person facing grief.

I want to dedicate this post to the Buddies: If anyone can step in to fill the role of dream cheerleader, it’s you. Thank you for being so dedicated to our kids and for your steadfast commitment as a champion of their dreams. Too often due to loss and grief, this champion is no longer is around.

And to my dad: if anyone wants to see just how impactful a cheerleader of dreams can be, just thank my dad. I sure do all the time.

Happy Father’s Day to my amazing dad.

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Loss and Gratitude: A Simple Gesture

By Donna Moss, Development Coordinator

About three years ago, I received the call that one of my best friends, Calvin, had committed suicide. In that moment, a numbing wave washed over me. Feeling like I took a hit to the stomach, I couldn’t talk, let alone breathe. In the days following the news, my breath returned, but the numbness failed to subside.

My world completely shattered. As a student working through college, I felt I simply didn’t have the time to pick up the pieces, so I stuck to my routine. Each morning, I would wake up, brush my hair, pull on whatever clothes laid in a pile on my bed, and I’d head off for work or class – often times both. Each evening, I would return straight to my bedroom, peel off each layer, throw them back on my bed, and crawl into bed for the night. And on I went.


Donna and Calvin

One day when I returned from class to begin my evening routine, I entered my bedroom to see that my clothes were neatly folded and put away. My roommate had cleaned up while I was out for the day. It doesn’t seem like the biggest gesture, but it showed me that someone cared about me and that I needed to begin to care for myself. The numbness began to dissolve as I finally addressed that I was not okay, and in the days, weeks, and months that followed, I began to take the time to pick up the pieces.

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Loss and Gratitude: A Father Tribute

By Cindy Schoell, Board Chair

I was 4 yearkcs old when my mother died after a 4 year battle with breast cancer.  My parent’s were quite amazing in the fact that they never hid my mother’s illness from my sister, who is 2 years older than me, and I.  When my mother died, my father sat my sister and I down together, talked to us about her going to heaven, allowed us to attend the viewing, funeral, etc…just like everyone else who needed to say goodbye to her.

As an adult, I realize how amazing it was that my dad allowed us to grieve and wasn’t afraid of our grief – at least he didn’t show it.  When Mother’s Day was approaching this year, I couldn’t help but think about my dad. I have spent most of my life without my mom on this earth, but Mother’s Day was always a special day in our home. My dad taught us to honor those women in our lives who loved us and supported us. My dad filled in for such activities that are typically a “mom’s job” and once we were old enough to realize this, my sister and I starting getting our dad Mother’s Day cards.

I was blessed with 2 wonderful parents : a mom who fought like crazy for 4 years to spend as much time with her daughter’s as possible; and a dad who stepped in to fill her shoes as much as he could! As I was scrambling to have my girls sign the Mother’s Day cards I put in the mail late – I smiled in amazement when remembering how many Mother’s Day cards my dad made Amy (my sister) and I sign every year, as he purchased one for our Grandmas, aunts, Great aunts, neighbors, etc. (I have a very large extended family so believe when I say that it was a lot of cards!).

Now with Father’s Day approaching, I think about what a wonderful and loving dad I had.  He raised 2 daughters from the ages of 4 & 6 as a single father.  He attended dance rehearsals, dance recitals, choir concerts, teacher conferences, held us when we cried, snuggled us when we were scared, gave us consequences when needed, went prom dress shopping, wedding dress shopping and cheered us on to achieve our goals in life.  My dad – Larry Barnes – was simply the best.  I loved him and so much of who I am today, as a parent, friend, spouse and person are because of him.  When I was 27, my dad lost a quick battle with pancreatic cancer.  My heart broke.  Now 13 years later I am proud to say I feel him, and my mom, with me every day and my daughters talk about Grandpa Larry and Grandma Tina – even though they have never met them – because I followed my dad’s lead, and have kept the people I love alive in my heart.  Happy Father’s Day Dad!


Loss and Gratitude: The Power of Family

By Hannah Arney, Marketing Intern and Former KC Member

When I turned 8, my eleven-year old sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor. My sister spent many weeks and even months at a time in the hospital where she received chemo, radiation and stem cell treatments. This meant one of my parents and sometimes both would be with my sister. Throughout my sister’s two-year cancer treatment, there was always the mystery of who would be at my house when I woke up or when I got home from school.  It could be my babysitter, my extended family, family friends and sometimes even my parents. My two younger brothers and myself never knew what the day would hold. One of my favorite people to wake up to was my Uncle Mark.

Uncle Mark would come over to make breakfast on many mornings so my Dad could go to work or the hospital. He always greeted us with a smile and a funny story.  His sense of humor sometimes involved flipping the breakfast pancakes to the ceiling or telling us silly jokes.  I loved having my Uncle for breakfast because the conversation wasn’t how my sister was doing but how us kids were doing. If we wanted to ask questions or talk about my sister, we knew we always could talk to him. He would make us lunches and walk us to school. He always made us laugh.

A few weekends and school vacations, when other friends were out of town with their families, my Uncle Mark and his family took my brother, some of my other cousins and myself to fun places and vacations at a Wisconsin Waterpark Resort. He gave us fun filled weekends, while my sister was in stem cell treatment in Chicago.  There was a mutual understanding between my cousins and I that they understood what was going on in our family and there was no need to talk about it. We were able to escape our cancer-filled world. We lived in a small town and wherever I went in school or was out in our community, I was asked how my sister was doing, Sometimes I did not know and sometimes I did not feel like discussing it.

kira and i

Kira and Hannah

My Uncle, Aunt and my cousins gave my brothers and I the opportunity to be kids again and have fun. There was a sense of normalcy when I was around them. Losing a sibling and having a sibling sick places a lot of stress and tension on the whole family. It was really hard to talk about what I was feeling watching my sister’s cancer journey. Sometimes I used to feel guilty about wanting to be a normal kid when I wasn’t the one who was sick.  I will forever be thankful and filled with gratitude for my Uncle Mark and his family for making the unthinkable be bearable. I always felt like I could talk to him and he was there to help us understand what we were going through. Even after my sister died, I felt like he really understood the impact on our family.  I probably never shared with him what a difference he made for us during those couple of years. Thank you Uncle Mark!

Loss and Gratitude: A Helping Friend

By Emily Lieberman, Ambassador10986508_10205235985792091_3128735716822105859_n

Saturday, March 9th, 1985. It was any normal Saturday night. My younger sister, Hallie was at the movies with her friends. My older brother, Josh, was away at a soccer tournament, and my older sister, Beth, had just left a few minutes previously with her friend, Shelley. Although my dad had offered them a ride, they said it was nice out and wanted to walk over to Shelley’s house. I was on the phone with my friend, Chrissy, making plans for the night when the call waiting beeped in (yes, call waiting, landline…it was 1985). When I clicked over, it was another friend of Beth’s, calling from a payphone, to let us know Beth had been hit by a car. She said that an ambulance was on the way and didn’t have any other information. I got off with Chrissy, told my mom and dad, and we jumped in the car, actually following the ambulance to the site of the accident. Once there, everything moved so quickly and it wasn’t long before we knew how serious this was.

Beth was taken by ambulance to a local hospital and then life-flighted to a downtown hospital, better equipped to deal with brain injuries (yes, this is definitely serious). I was taken to a few different houses that night, friends of the family, before finally going home extremely late, not sure what was going on. We found out the next day that Beth had suffered severe brain trauma and was on life support. During this time, going to school was not an option, but being at home waiting for updates was unbearable as well. My friend, Chrissy, stayed home from school to spend time with me, and was there for me in an immeasurable way. It wasn’t that she consoled me throughout that week; we didn’t even talk much about was happening. We gossiped, read magazines, listened to music, and watched TV. There were a lot of tears that week, as the updates and visits to the hospital were not good. But there was lightness as well, and it had so much to do with having Chrissy there for me. So many other friends and family members were there for us, but having her with me meant the world to me and it meant so much to my parents as well.

One day at the Kate’s Club clubhouse, we were doing an activity “Story Wheel”. The kids would spin a wheel, landing on different questions. One of the kids got the questions “What is the best thing someone said to you during your loss?” His answer, “I’m here for you.” Truer words were never spoken. Chrissy was there for me, and I am eternally grateful.

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