Our History

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Rachel with kidsOn Oct. 10, 2007, Fernside marked the passing of our founder, Rachel Burrell. We remember her gentle spirit and remarkable ability to connect with children.

Rachel was a pioneer in children’s grief and paved the way for similar programs across the country. Among her many accomplishments, she was selected in 1987 as Newsweek ‘s Great American Hero from Ohio, she was recognized in 1991 by the Points of Light Foundation for reaching out in service to others, and she was honored with a key to the city in 2002 by the City of Cincinnati.

After Rachel’s death, an editorial in The Cincinnati Enquirer noted her gift to the community by describing Fernside. “At its core, Fernside is about treating death with honesty and children with dignity. It has saved hundreds of children from suffering in silence, fostered their resilience and thus strengthened the emotional and mental health of our community.”

Fernside grew out of Rachel’s personal experience and vision. What was most important to Rachel was building a place for grieving children. In Rachel’s own words “We let the child set his own pace for grieving. At Fernside the time and space are set aside for the sole purpose of giving the children the opportunity to talk or listen, take or share, sit or run, laugh or cry.”

Following her retirement as Executive Director, Rachel wondered out loud “I just hope that my dreams don’t get lost, and that some of them will come to pass.”

Let there be no doubt Rachel, your dreams live on.

Finding Support During a Time of Grieving

Rachel BurrellFernside grew out of Rachel and Paul Burrell's experience with grief following the death of their son, David. In 1982, David, who was a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, was riding his bike home from classes when he was hit by a car. He lived for about 24 hours and then he died. Rachel and Paul were faced with not only their own grief, but also that of their three surviving children.

Rachel and Paul were helped by an organization called Compassionate Friends. They provided support to parents who had a child die. It was there that Rachel began to hear the voices of others. She was particularly drawn to the voices of younger women who were having to cope with their own bereaved children at home, but had little energy to do so and still attend to their own grief. She realized then that she was not alone in wondering why there was no grief support for children and teens in our community.

In July of 1985, Rachel heard Peter Jennings speak about a center in Portland, Oregon, which was in fact, serving grieving children. Rachel and Paul visited The Dougy Center later that same year.

Fernside Opens its Doors

They returned, inspired and ready to begin their pioneering work as the second center for grieving children in the United States. In the fall of 1986, Fernside opened its doors to 16 children and 12 adults. Rachel worked out of her living room, talking on her home phone, using a small typewriter. Their credo evolved – a safe and loving, non-judgmental haven for grieving children and teens. Rachel said, "We would learn from the children and they would create the place."

founder-rachel-burrellFernside is the name of a street near Walnut Hills High School, where all of the Burrell children attended. When David was a student and needed a ride home, he would say, "I'll be waiting for you at Fernside." or "Meet me at Fernside."

In 2002, Fernside affiliated with Hospice of Cincinnati. Steve West, President & CEO, was passionate about the work we were doing to support grieving children and their families and saw this new relationship as an opportunity for increased bereavement support in the community.

Today, over 1000 children, teens and adults attend support groups annually. Our services have expanded and include community outreach and crisis programs, in-school groups, camps and retreats, workshops, training, and consultations.

We are physicians, hospitals and communities working together to help you live better.