Founder bids adieu to burned Dougy Center building

As they’re about to tear down the burned mansion that once housed this SE Portland center for grieving children and families, find out why so many people turned up for a party on the ruined building’s lawn …

Standing by the boarded-up Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families’ front door, ready to say good-bye, are its Executive Director, Donna Schuurman, and its founder, Beverly Chappell.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
A month shy of when their building was set ablaze after a series of attempts by an arsonist last year, the staff, clients, and friends of The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families held an outdoor open house a few weeks ago.

>See our story covering that fire: CLICK HERE.

“We’re here to say our good-byes to this fine old house that served as our main building since 1988,” said Donna Schuurman, the Center’s Executive Director, at the event.

For the first and last time, staff, volunteers, and clients are given the opportunity to look inside the burned-out house.

“Close to 20,000 kids have gone these doors,” Schuurman reminisced, pointing to the building’s front porch door. “They’ve come here to get help dealing with the death of a parent, brother, sister, parent, or friend. It holds a lot of memories for a lot of people. We’re here to honor this, with our friends and volunteers.”

The Dougy program – prototypical for this type of counseling – came into existence in 1982, in the basement of its founder, Beverly Chappell.

“Then, it moved into a rental house on the Warner Pacific College campus,” Schuurman recalled. “We’d outgrown that by 1988. Even though it wasn’t for sale, a volunteer thought that this house on SE 52nd Avenue would be perfect for us. He approached the owner, Lyda Beth Thorne, whose family had owned it for decades. After learning about our work, she sold it to us for $100,000 in 1998.”

Founder comes for last visit
The Dougy Center’s founder, Beverly Chappell, arrived at the open house, and talked with us for a few minutes about its beginnings.

“I’ve been studying in the area of death and grief counseling for years and years, since 1974,” Chappell began. “One of my friends, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. [author of the groundbreaking book “On Death and Dying”], was one of my great friends.

“My husband had a young patient whose dad died in a car accident,” Chappell recalled. “He sent him to the house to get some grief counseling materials that I had there.”

Chappell said she thought it would be a good idea to work with the entire bereaved family, not just the grieving child. As word spread, she began working with other families who had been touched by death.

“I told Elisabeth that I was seeing children who were being ‘protected from tears’ by their surviving parent; and the child protecting the parent from tears. I realized that kids needed a place to be with others their own age who could empathize – who have experienced the same thing. She told me, ‘Beverly, you go create that place.’ That’s how the Dougy Center started.”

Throughout the day, supporters of The Dougy Center came for an open house to say goodbye to their main building, burned by an arsonist.

Looking forward, Schuurman said they’ve been working with Portland State University’s Regional Research Institute to gather ideas and input from volunteers, families, and community members on what the new home should include.

“After being here for 22 years, it’s sad to say goodbye to this house,” Schuurman told us. “But as one of our people said, ‘The Dougy Center isn’t a building, it’s a concept.  As sad as it is to lose this building, the program will continue.”

She pointed to the fact that there are now at least 500 programs around the world that are modeled after this seminal program. “A fire can’t destroy this idea. After developing this program for 28 years, we now teach and train others, internationally. There’s even an alliance – the National Alliance for Grieving Children.”

Guests take one last glimpse into the burned building on S.E. 52nd near Foster that once housed The Dougy Center.

Building to be razed
When the weather improves, the home – thought to have been built in 1910 – will come down, we learned.

“Everything will be taken down, including digging out the basement,” informed Schuurman. “We know it will be rebuilt to look like a home, not an office building. We continue.”

> To learn more about The Dougy Center, see their website CLICK HERE.

Meantime, Portland Fire and Rescue investigators are still keeping open the hunt for the arsonist who tried repeatedly to burn the building on S.E. 52nd, just south of Foster Road, and finally succeeded.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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