From Tragedy to Triumph

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Fall 2013

As an NFL football player, you have to be tough as nails, fearless on and off the field, and tenaciously unemotional. Eleven-year NFL veteran Brian Griese, who retired from football in 2009, embodied all of those qualities as a quarterback.


But as a 12-year-old boy who had just lost his mother, he certainly didn’t feel tough, fearless or unemotional. “It was a really difficult experience,” recalls Brian, the son of Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese. “I felt like I was the only 12-year-old boy in the world who had just lost his mother, and I struggled through that time in my life.”


Fast forward 15 years, and Brian was able to transform his experience into a charitable organization dedicated to ensuring no child feels alone in grief. Judi’s House — appropriately named after his mother —  opened in 2002 to support kids who have experienced loss, connect them with peers and teach them coping skills to prevent negative outcomes such as depression, anxiety and alcoholism.


“When my mother passed away, I remember thinking that I would have benefited from meeting with other kids who were going through the same thing I was,” he says. “But I didn’t really know of any other kids. I didn’t have a place to go.”

Brian Griese and kids at Judi's House watch as Bob Griese wins $141,310 for the organization on "Wheel of Fortune"; photo by Getty Images


No Time Like the Present

Soon after he was drafted by the Broncos in 1998, Brian realized he wanted to support Denver-area kids who had lost a loved one. Initially, he and his wife, Brook, thought to establish a grant-making foundation to support existing organizations doing that kind of work.


“I researched what programs were out there and found that there were none,” he says. “It was my second year in the NFL, and I had a lot of time commitments and pressures on me, following in the footsteps of a legend in John Elway, who had just retired.”

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Fall 2013

Brian and Brook were faced with a difficult decision: Should they wait to make an impact on this issue so Brian first could get his feet on the ground professionally?


“We decided that, no, we shouldn’t wait to make an impact on these kids because there would be no time in my life when I would have more influence than at that moment when I was playing and a part of the community,” he says.


Brian and Brook established an operating foundation — a very different dynamic than a grant-making one — which encompassed hiring a staff, maintaining an operating budget and directing programming, all while Brian played in the NFL.


“It wasn’t our original intent, but because of the lack of resources and huge need for the services, we decided we would tackle it head-on,” he says.


An Ounce of Prevention

Kids who have experienced a significant loss are at risk of negative developmental outcomes, from depression to dropping out of school. For that reason, prevention is a core value of Judi’s House.

“We believe in investing in these kids, building coping mechanisms and supporting the resilience inside of them,” Brian says. “It will benefit all of us from a social-cost standpoint down the road, as we’re affecting kids’ emotional well-being, behavioral well-being and academic performance, and preventing health-related costs.”


“We believe in investing in these kids, building coping mechanisms and supporting the resilience inside of them.” 

—Brian Griese


In addition to providing free services and programs to kids — for example, a survivors group out of Gateway High School in Aurora, Colorado, for those impacted by the 2012 movie theater tragedy — Judi’s House has invested in an independent third-party research initiative to test the effectiveness of its programs. The research, in collaboration with the University of Colorado, focuses on the needs of grieving children and the intervention services that can best meet those needs. Brook, who received a Ph.D. in child psychology from the University of Colorado, drives that initiative, while Brian focuses on the administrative and fundraising side.

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Fall 2013

The couple’s next goal is to scale what they’ve built and learned over the past 10 years to provide access to more kids across the country and even around the world. They plan to do this in two ways:


  • Increasing research: Brian and Brook hope to extend their research to dispel the common misconception that time heals all wounds when it comes to grieving children. “For example, last year we compared a group of kids who did not receive services at Judi’s House with kids who had received services over the same year,” Brian says. “The kids who came to Judi’s House had half the emotional and behavioral difficulties as the kids who did not come to Judi’s. Our research will focus on why this issue should be a priority and the value of prevention.”
  • Using technology to increase access: The organization is currently building a technological platform with a learning management component to train mental health clinicians in its curriculum and assessment protocols. The platform will also link clinicians with community sites where they can deliver services, such as schools and Boys & Girls Clubs.


“We are absolutely approaching this from a holistic point of view, and doing it in a way that is sustainable and will hopefully create social change around the issue,” Brian says. “As a society, we have to be accountable to these kids.”


Making an Impact and Creating Returns

Brian shared the same message of accountability when he spoke at The Private Client Reserve May Leadership Conference as a client and a leader in his profession and community. “Families are depending upon their financial professionals to be accountable for how they’re looking after their futures and their kids’ futures,” Brian says. “I wanted those in attendance to keep thinking about what motivates them, why they do what they do and the level of pride they have in providing the best-possible services for clients.” 


That’s the very approach Brian and Brook take with Judi’s House. “We have the privilege of supporting and working with families in their time of need,” he says. “I talk at length with our staff about accountability, respect and compassion. There are a lot of similarities in what we do and what the professionals at The Private Client Reserve do.”


Adds Darren S. Markley, Market Leader, Colorado, with The Private Client Reserve: “Judi’s House is all about making sure kids don’t grieve alone. In our own way, The Private Client Reserve works to ensure clients don’t go through tough times alone. By getting to know clients on a personal level with a foundation of open communication, we become a trusted advisor — one they know they can turn to during tough times, whether it be emotionally or financially related.”


Learn more about Judi's House, including its programs and resources as well as how to get involved.


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