The Silicon Valley Voice

Power To Your Voice

Joan Russell and Bill Wilson Center, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

“I was encouraged by friendships within the [Bill Wilson Center] grief support group. The group normalized what I was going through,” said Joan Russell. “It was a wonderful experience. I was so helped by the group.”

Russell was a guest Feb. 23 for lunch and a tour of Bill Wilson Center’s (BWC) new Centre for Living with Dying in San Jose.

She started out as a BWC client in a grief support group after her husband died unexpectedly in 2006. Now, however, she is a trained volunteer facilitator for BWC’s Loss of Partner/Spouse group.


“I’m so grateful that I can use what I learned. I’m grateful I can help other people like I was helped,” she said.

Russell started by facilitating Loss of Parent groups. Her own grief was still too fresh for her to facilitate Loss of Partner/Spouse groups.

“But my heart was really in the Loss of Partner/Spouse group,” she said. “In helping people who are drowning in grief be able to see life again. The group is a safe, confidential place in which they can talk about their grief.”

The group meets once a week for eight weeks, gathering first in person. Remaining sessions are online via Zoom.

Russell, a San Jose resident who taught chemistry at Prospect High School for 23 years, stays up-to-date through relevant reading and online classes. Volunteering has given new meaning and purpose to her life.

“Volunteer work is very helpful to people—getting them outside themselves and helping someone else. It’s something to get up for,” said Russell.

A native Californian, Russell said that she is but one of many great BWC volunteers—caring and loving people who have become her friends.

Russell, who has traveled to over 70 countries—to Italy this past January, also finds time to use her sewing skills for the good of others. She volunteers with Days for Girls International, making reusable, cloth sanitary pads.

“Using trained volunteers [such as Joan Russell] for group peer support is a best practice in counseling,” said former BWC CEO Sparky Harlan, also touring the Centre for Living with Dying.

The church renovated the building to meet the needs of BWC at a cost of almost 5.6 million dollars, coming from grants from the Presbytery of San Jose and a $600,000 gap loan. The church leased the building to BWC for 20 years as an urban ministry outreach.

“But our hope is that this is a forever relationship,” said Rev. Dr. Bryan Franzen, pastor of Westminster Pres.

Bill Wilson Center, headquartered in Santa Clara, has served runaway and homeless youth and families since 1973. Contact BWC at (408) 850-6145 for information about grief support or other services. Call BWC crisis hotlines 24/7 at (408) 850-6125.


1 Comment
  1. Kate Brophy 3 months ago

    What a beautiful, appropriate, generous payback gift Joan has given to BWC.

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