We thought it would be of interest to everyone to revisit our past as an organization and find out in more detail how and why Courageous Kids was started. To do that we had to find Kathy Nussbaum, the woman who created the program. After much research Bruce Shaw, our Development Coordinator at the time, was able to find Kathy in Kodiak, Alaska and had the opportunity to talk with Kathy and learn firsthand how Courageous Kids came about.

The story begins with the death of Kathy’s father from cancer and its impact on her young children. “His death was my children’s death education,” she explained. As a Hospice nurse she had worked with many families with children. “People often got advice from friends or relatives in favor of protecting children from the dying process and the services after the death as much as possible.” Kathy found that if families had something in writing to read about children and grief, they were more likely to reconsider the advice they had been given. And so, following her dad’s death, her way of processing her loss was to write a pamphlet entitled, "Including the Children", which our Hospice then gave out to families with children.

 

One evening in February of 1995, a friend called Kathy from Illinois and recommended she watch a "Dateline" program that evening about a Hospice in Delaware that put on a camp for grieving children each summer. She watched it and was hooked. She decided that evening that she would develop a camp for the grieving children in Eugene. With the help from her coworkers and many community friends and professionals, the first Courageous Kids Camp was held at Camp Lane with around 25 campers in June of 1995.

Just before the camp actually took place, Kathy began to feel uncomfortable about the idea of taking kids to camp, teaching them to open up their feelings and then sending them home with no on-going support. She decided to return to school, enrolling in the University of Oregon’s Masters Program in Psychology in an effort to design a comprehensive program of “grief support” for children of all ages and their parents.

For her UO Master’s project, she turned her pamphlet into a real book called, Preparing the Children: Information and Ideas for Families Facing Terminal Illness and Death, which is still being used by hospices around the country. Courageous Kids began by having two groups a week, one for children in elementary school and their parents, and the other for middle school and high school age kids.

After two years, three summer camps, and many incredible relationships with the kids and volunteer staff, Kathy and her family moved to Alaska for a new adventure. Since she left, Kathy’s life has not slowed down one bit. She has been a school nurse, a mental health counselor in a high school, and she created a Red Cross Disaster Team for her community, which got her involved in both national and international disaster work that included 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Indonesia tsunami, just to name a few. She now works as a behavioral health consultant for an Alaska Native medical organization and she is enrolled in school once again to become a Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

It is amazing to think that because of one person’s motivation, a program was born that has touched the lives of more than 3,000 children and families during a difficult time in their lives.

Kathy says:

"Creating Courageous Kids is one of my proudest accomplishments.  I love to hear how it has grown and changed over the years and how the kids who were once participants are now leaders.  I wish I could visit the program more often."