In the summer of 1977, Bruce MacNaul, Esq., soon to be elected Camden County Surrogate, seeing his mother suffer from the loss of his father, wanted to help those who had lost their spouse but knew of nothing available. He soon met Betty Rice, a recently widowed woman who was pursuing a degree in social work, and the two began a series of conversations about the issue. Soon others joined and in 1978 they formed a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation; the seeds for H.O.P.E. were planted.
The group used personal knowledge of the grieving process, background in social work, and organizational skills to develop the beginning of what is probably the oldest grief support organization in the area, if not the nation, dedicated to the special needs of widows and widowers. In the beginning there was a twelve-week program developed and conducted by Ms. Rice. Not long thereafter Sunny Lawrence, a recently widowed woman who was a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in counseling, joined Betty Rice. They attended workshops and read whatever materials were available to learn more about grief and the grieving process. Working together, they then revised the program into its present format, a series of four ten-week sessions, providing a year-long support system for those suffering the loss of their beloved spouses. Sensing the need for permanent locations, they established the first three chapters in Collingswood, Mantua, and Moorestown.
The program began to grow as did the demand. Their hard work and commitment resulted in opening many new chapters. Betty and Sunny trained graduates of the H.O.P.E. program as Group Leaders.
These two women continued for years giving freely of their time, their energy, and their hearts to the organization they loved. They not only planted the seeds of an idea to help the grieving, they nurtured it, guided it, and grew it into what it is today — by far the largest and arguably the most effective provider of grief support to those who have lost a loved spouse. It is estimated that well over 10,000 people have been helped by the H.O.P.E. program.
Today, H.O.P.E. is a far cry from those seeds planted in 1978. There is an office and Board staffed by volunteers and there are now fifteen chapters spread throughout central and southern New Jersey. Weekly meetings are run by dedicated people who have suffered the same loss. These heroes of H.O.P.E. volunteer as group leaders, committing one day or night a week for forty weeks per year. Many return year after year, paid only by the satisfaction that they get from guiding those along the path that others from H.O.P.E. have helped them walk in their time of need.
Modern day H.O.P.E. is a much larger organization manned by over fifty volunteers dedicated to keep the dream of Bruce MacNaul, Betty Rice, and Sunny Lawrence alive and to stay true to their mission of providing as much support as possible to as many grieving widows and widowers as possible.