Allyson Drake, 38 

Founder and Director, Full Circle

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST

Not everyone understands why Allyson Drake would embrace pain and sorrow. "People think I'm absolutely crazy for loving bereavement work," she says. A former school counselor, Drake saw firsthand how few resources were available for children experiencing loss. So in 2008 she drafted a business plan for what is now Full Circle, a nonprofit grief resource center for children and their families.

There's no charge for any of the services, which include peer groups run by trained grief counselors. Creative arts are used to help children access their feelings. "They're doing things they already love doing like art, crafts, writing and music," Drake says. "It's very different than traditional talk therapy."

Full Circle also runs 18 grief support groups in area schools, serving high-risk children who might not otherwise have access to services. Last semester, 40 percent of the children in these groups had experienced two or more significant losses, defined as the deaths of people in their immediate families.

Drake grew up in Richmond, attended the University of Virginia and moved to Washington for about four years. Then, she says, "Richmond sucked me back." The mother of two young children, Drake finds that working with grieving families makes her appreciate her life and the people in it. "I've heard all the stories about how things can change so quickly in life," she says. "Nothing is for sure."

What surprises and inspires Drake the most are the friendships that grow among the families attending the center. "No matter how much pain the people are in who come to our program," she says, "they are there supporting and encouraging one another."

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