Ceremony signals Dougy Center’s ‘rise from the ashes’

Take a look, and you’ll see why an arsonist’s fire couldn’t stop the 30-year mission of this East Portland organization – which helps children cope with the death of a loved one …

Next to the already-excavated basement of their new building, staff, volunteers, supporters and clients of The Dougy Center gather on S.E. 52nd south of Foster Road for the official groundbreaking ceremony.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Flames leaping high into the darkness of a summer sky on June 21, 2009 made a terrifying sight – both for neighbors, and for those associated with The Dougy Center itself, at 3903 SE 52nd Avenue, just south of Foster Road.

  • Read our story, illustrated with exclusive photos, about this tragic fire: CLICK HERE.

At last, staff, guests, clients, and dignitaries were invited to participate in a groundbreaking ceremony, as the organization begins to rebuild a new home for their organization on the same ground where old building once stood.

Dougy Center Executive Director Donna Schuurman welcomes attendees to the groundbreaking ceremony for the building to replace the one torched by an arsonist nearly three years ago in Southeast Portland.

Dougy Center Executive Director Donna Schuurman began the ceremonial event by telling the assembled crowd, “When I got up early for a radio interview this morning, I heard the rain falling hard on my roof. I was thinking to myself, ‘I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain’!”

But the morning showers passed, as the program continued.

Before the gathering, Schuurman recalled the night she took the call, telling her that the Dougy Cener was ablaze.

“Driving over that night, I had these thoughts: This would be a ‘before and after moment’; the Dougy Center would rise again from the ashes. I also knew it would be a lot of work, but our community of friends would make it happen.”

With the site cleared, and the attendees standing next to the newly-excavated basement site, Schuurman continued, “Today is the day we symbolically recognize this new beginning, and the support that made it possible. As you probably noticed, the ground has already been broken.”

The artistic rendering of the new building showed that the new 11,750- square-foot facility will have the homey feel of the prior old house, and will include designated areas for the young people, preschoolers to teens – permitting families with children of various ages to attend Dougy Center sessions at the same time.

PGE Foundation Chair Gwyneth Gamble Booth says she looks forward to the “rebirth” of the organization’s center.

“When the Center burned, we all felt ‘this is just one more “death” we have to deal with and process’,” remarked Gwyneth Gamble Booth, Chair of the PGE Foundation, and 20-year Dougy Center facilitator.

“As a person who helps children who have been impacted death in the homicide or suicide of a family member, it’s exciting to be here at the rebirth at the new and wonderful center.”

Hundreds of similar organizations, worldwide, have modeled their programs based on The Dougy Center says Peggy McGuire, Peggy McGuire, Senior Vice President at Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Schuurman acknowledged the firefighters from Portland Fire & Rescue Woodstock Station 25 who came to the groundbreaking, and thanked them, and all the firefighters who tried to save the building, for their heroic effort.

“The Dougy Center isn’t the plaster or the bricks,” Schuurman said. “It is the relationships of those who have experienced the death of a child or parent. And, through that tragedy, who forge a new path in their lives, showing there was a ‘then’, and there is a ‘now’.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the nonprofit organization, Schuurman continued. $3.5 million has been raised to rebuild the center so far. “The fundraising is not over, but our goal is within reach. We’re now about 70% ‘there’. We hope and trust the community will step up, so we can open our doors by the end of the year.”

Peggy McGuire, Senior Vice President at Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield, and also a Dougy Center board member, told of the continuing support for the organization. “This is one of the ‘shining lights’ – not only our community – but also around the world. Since its founding, The Dougy Center has become the model for 500 similar programs, worldwide.”

Dougy Center client Laurie Zwingli tells how The Dougy Center helped her family cope with their loss.

The last to speak was Laurie Zwingli, who told how the Dougy Center had helped her and her three children to cope with the suicide death of her husband, and their father.

“At the Dougy Center, we found there were others who have experienced the same thing. We felt acceptance and companionship – after feeling like ‘outsiders’ in their own community – even with family members,” Zwingli said. “The Dougy Center was their safe harbor, their home away from home.”

She added that her children are now “secure in knowing they have a safe, welcoming place here, if they need to come back and work with their grief.”

These supporters officially break ground for the new Dougy Center.

A ray of sunshine broke through the clouds, as staff, friends, and supporters took golden shovels in hand, and ceremonially broke ground.

Learn more about the resources provided for grieving children, or how you can help support the Dougy Center’s efforts, at their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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