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Meet Julie Brennan of We Do Care in South of Boston

Today we’d like to introduce you to Julie Brennan.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
At age 34 years old, I found myself a young widow raising two small children. My partner Jon died in a car accident on February 14, 2010. It was sudden, unexpected and turned my life completely upside down and inside out. I felt a need to find help for my 3 year old son and a place where people would understand what I was going through.

Only this place didn’t exist anywhere near our location in Brockton Massachusetts. One grief support group I found was not specific to widows and in the other group the participants were 30 to 40 years older than I was. Losing your partner decades before the norm carries with it a special set of circumstances. People around my family wanted to help us but they didn’t know how to.

I found a grief counselor immediately through my OBGYN’s office. I was 3 months pregnant when Jon passed away, so they connected me quickly. This was very helpful because it gave me someone to talk to and in the beginning my biggest worry was for my children. How were they going to be okay after losing their father? What steps could I take to ensure they still had a “normal life”? I was such an optimistic happy person before this loss, how could I raise my children in a happy home while grieving my closest person?

Then, I started meeting young widows. Just by chance they kept being put in my path. I coordinated meet ups for a small group of us. We’d laugh, cry and just vent about our lives. Most importantly we connected. In life when you are going through a difficult time it is crucial to find someone who just gets it. Being a widow is isolating. Riding the grief roller coaster is incredibly difficult because of the unpredictability of grief.

We Do Care started with care packages for widows and social meet ups. When I created a care package, the items inside were meant to give comfort to the recipient. Just a small gesture to let them know they were thought about at a time when the world seemed to move on. Those care packages allowed me a great deal of healing. It felt good to help others in a similar situation. The more I connected with other widows the better I felt. We Do Care was formed out of a need in our society. There are not many support groups or organizations to help this population of young widows, widowers, and children who lost a parent.

We Do Care became a nonprofit 501c3 organization in spring of 2016. In July of that year we launched our first peer to peer support group for young widows and widowers. Simultaneously we launched a Kid’s Group for children who lost a parent. Typically the children in the group come because their parent attends the adult support group. It started as a six week trial to see if it would work, and at week five the participants all agreed it could not end in a week, it wasn’t enough time.

And so, 2 years later we have grown from 6 original support group members to serving a total of 30 widows and widowers. We have served 40 children in our work to help families heal after loss. Our programming consists of Peer to Peer support group twice a month, social meet ups for members, community events, and a huge Holiday Gift drive culminating with a fun Christmas party for families. Our belief is that by building up the adult we directly impact their family unit. We believe in taking widows and turning them into Warriors.

Many of the widows we help are raising young children. However we do welcome widows and widowers without children to join us. Together the members of We Do Care have formed their own network much like a family. They cheer each other on and support each other through happy as well as challenging times.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Some things have come easily, like the people finding us. But, starting a nonprofit on your own with no funding has not been easy. Many of the nonprofits I have talked with had money that came in after a tragedy and they had to do something with the money. That was not our case. We saw a need in the community not being met and wanted to provide a service to young widows for free.

The founder, Julie Brennan was an elementary school teacher for 19 years. The career shift to starting a business and learning nonprofit protocol has been a learning experience. The funding for our programming and organization has been the biggest challenge. Programming and serving the people are going very well. However, being a grassroots nonprofit and breaking into the nonprofit field in Massachusetts with so many other amazing charities doing great work is a challenge. It is important for us to gain trust from our supporters. Letting our donors know that the money donated goes right back into programming and supporting our widows and children is important.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We Do Care serves young widows, widowers and children who have lost a parent. We offer peer to peer support groups for the adults and children.

The adult group is a support group model working to empower the individual. The program helps to provide coping skills for loss, adjustment to their new life after loss, and connection to others who understand partner and spouse loss. In our support group it is a safe place for members to vent and let out their feelings.

The children’s group provides expressive art for children who lost a father or mother. Here the children have fun and connect with other children. They learn they are not alone in their loss.

What sets us apart is we welcome young widows and widowers with partner or spouse loss. We recognize widows without children. We include same sex partnerships as widows. Many of the groups for this age group (20s to 50s) are targeting the children to help them through loss. This is important, however our firm belief is when you target the surviving parent, and get them resources and help, you are strengthening the entire family unit. We provide social opportunities for all of our members. We know a happy life filled with joy comes from having strong relationships. Widows face isolation after their loss. We Do Care wants people to find hope, connection and joy and live a healthy life. Their loss is woven into their life but does not define the rest of their life and who they are.

What were you like growing up?
I had a great deal of empathy and compassion for others. I liked people. I loved animals and being outdoors.

When my parents went to my first grade parent teacher conference and looked in my desk, they found a desk full of incomplete worksheets. Stunned my parents asked, “Julie is having trouble? She doesn’t know how to do her assignments?” “Oh no, replied Mrs. MacNeil, Julie starts her work, understands it then goes around helping the kids who need help”. In the first grade I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I loved helping others. Now I am just teaching in a different way. Spreading grief awareness and showing people there are many ways to grieve and to cope with loss, you just need to find what works for you.

I began working at age 8. Starting with a morning paper route with my mom and brother. I learned work ethic young and that having a job meant responsibility and people depended on you.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Personal photo – Dana Pierce
Julie got married in 2016 to Tom Brennan and her family became complete.
Photo chosen to give young widows hope, you can find love again. Shown here with sons Jayce age 11, and Anthony age 7 and husband Tom Brennnan

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