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Compassionate Friends of Ocean County, Toms River, New Jersey

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Starting the Ocean County Chapter

by Barbara Selikoff

On February 12, 1977 my three-year-old daughter Laura Ann died suddenly.   She was my first-born.  I was twenty-eight.  I didn’t know any bereaved parents.  There were no support groups.  I was all alone. 


After Laura died, I found myself engulfed in grief.  I was overwhelmed by the depth of my pain. I had lots of questions. My husband was dealing with his grief differently.  Whereas I was looking for answers outside of myself, he was going inside.  We could not help each other.

That spring I heard about a couple who had started a support group for bereaved parents after their daughter died.  They were in communication with the Reverend Simon Stephens who had founded a group in England and it was called The Compassionate Friends. Paula and Arnold Shamres lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

I called my sister who lived in Miami and she went to one of the meetings.  At the meeting, Paula and Arnold Shamres gave her the information I needed to start a group in New Jersey. During the summer, Phil Donahue did a show on the fledging Compassionate Friends.  At that time there were several groups forming in the United States. At the end of the show the names of groups were flashed on the screen and the Monmouth-Ocean chapter was included

That was our first official press. Patricia Kenney responded and expressed an interest in helping establish a Compassionate Friends group in the area.  Her son Chris had died when he was one-years-old. That fall, Pat and I strategized.  The first meeting was held in my home. Five people attended.

The Asbury Park Press ran an article and the idea took off.  In December, 1977 we began meeting at Point Pleasant Hospital.  Rosemarie Poverman, a family therapist, was our first guest speaker. About 15 people attended that meeting.  After that we continued to meet monthly.


Compassionate Friends grew rapidly.  In 1978 the national organization was established in Oak Brook, Illinois.  Soon there were hundreds of chapters all over the country.  The “Monmouth-Ocean” chapter split into two. I remained actively involved as the Ocean County chapter leader and newsletter editor for the next nineteen years. 


Eventually Pat Kenney moved away. Other people joined the group and found it in their hearts to stay on to support the newly bereaved.  There were many people that helped out during those formative years, but the two that stick in my mind are Jean Speaker and Gloria Mass.


I always felt that the time and energy that I put into The Compassionate Friends was “Laura’s time.”   I think that my husband and surviving children understood.   As the group grew and expanded, so did I.  I learned all about the grief process, how to facilitate a group, how to communicate effectively and most importantly how to listen.  Over the years I met many courageous people who inspired me.  They were my teachers.  Some even became by friends.


I am grateful to the others who came after me who continue to keep the spirit and message alive –



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