South Charlotte

Women form partnership to help others heal

The Respite: A Centre for Grief & Hope has opened a new healing center for Charlotte residents dealing with all types of grief.

The center, located at 4919 Monroe Road, uses a holistic approach and offers individual counseling, support groups, workshops, yoga, massage, personal training, nutrition counseling and art therapy.

Mandy Eppley, 44, and Elizabeth Woods Berrien, 30, two of the three co-founders of The Respite, first discussed the idea of a grief center after they met in 2009 and realized they shared a common dream.

Eppley, director of services and programs, then contacted a friend, Cindy Ballaro, 51, who has worked in marketing, development and administration for nonprofit organizations for 25 years, to assist them in securing their official nonprofit status.

Having recently lost her job, Ballaro felt the need to work with those that were in deep pain and became the third founding member of The Respite as director of awareness and outreach.

The services offered at The Respite are part of the "heart-centered" model of grief developed by Eppley, with teacher and director of several organizations, Chris Saâde. The seven-step model "looks at grief through the eyes of paradox," said Eppley. It teaches people to "support and affirm (their) grief, feel their pain and (to ask) what are the treasures and gifts from this suffering."

Eppley, a licensed professional therapist, has practiced for 20 years in Charlotte and recalls feeling isolated in her own grief experiences. She said in a society where people tend to feel they have to hide their grief, what is needed is a shift of consciousness. She said not only should we look at our grief and talk about it, but welcome it as a natural part of life and see the gifts it brings each of us.

Berrien, director of marketing, is on her own journey of dealing with grief after first losing her child at birth and then, several years later, her husband, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan.

This experience fueled her passion to create a place where widows could speak their grief, respect it and use creativity as a healing tool.

The result, Soul Widows, is a support group for young widows that incorporates art and dance in the healing process and offers widows tools and techniques to deal with their grief.

For each of the founders, being involved with The Respite is about using their own skills and experiences to serve a greater purpose.

Ballaro said she wants to "bring hope to women who are suffering."

"I want to use the gifts from my own suffering (to) give back around something so essential," said Eppley.

Berrien, who attended graduate school at the University of Missouri for community counseling, feels the same: "I feel like I am living my life's purpose by honoring my losses and giving back from my experience. I want to show (others) there is life after loss, to be a living example of that."

Services at The Respite range in price, with some free support groups and workshops. Scholarships are available and the center is on a bus route so public transportation is accessible.