10 years! Can you believe that Billy’s Place hosted its very first group night almost 10 years ago 😯, on October 14, 2013? We have been walking alongside families through heartache and heartbreak and have witnessed inspiration through tears, laughter, and HOPE 💜. We are so blessed that we have been able to be here for our community.

Since then, there has been so much growth in this small but mighty organization. 

We’ve gone from 1 group to 13 and from a bootstrapped team of two (Juli and Kris) to nine staff and 73 volunteers serving 460 families in our in-person groups each year. 

That doesn’t even count the thousands of community members, teachers, students, clinicians, and families we reach through our Hike for HOPE, Grief Informed Schools program, and other community engagement efforts each year. 

In honor of our 10th anniversary, we recently asked Juli McGreal, founder of Billy’s Place, to reflect back on the last ten years and what Billy’s Place means to her.   

Why did you start Billy’s Place?

I was living in Illinois when my husband, Mike, died in an accident. Our son, Billy, and I found a support group, Margaret Ann’s Place, and it was just what we needed. Walking into Margaret Ann’s Place felt like walking into my grandmother’s home. It was comfortable and welcoming. Billy and I felt like we belonged and they understood us 💜.

When we moved to Arizona, Billy was four years old and about to start Kindergarten. The beginning of the school year is hard, because there is a lot of talk about families, and I didn’t want Billy to feel isolated. 

I found a place that provided grief support for kids, but they started at age five, and they were located about a 45-minutes away. We tried it anyway when Billy was old enough, but it wasn’t the same as Margaret Ann’s Place. It just didn’t have that homey feel. 

Throughout the year, I met other families at Billy’s school who had suffered a loss and I asked if they knew of any grief support groups for kids. None of them knew what I was talking about. There were all of these grieving families, with nowhere to turn. 

The seed was planted. 

I worked on the administrative side of a church, so I came to learn how nonprofits run – the business and record-keeping side of things. And Kris is as passionate as I am, with a great background in marketing and networking, and also knows what it’s like to suffer a tragic loss. So we were determined to make Billy’s Place a reality for families 👨‍👧‍👦. 

What was your vision for Billy’s Place when you started?

We envisioned a small nonprofit serving Peoria and Glendale. I never expected us to grow and impact as many families as we have! 

The main focus has always been to give kids a safe place. I love that we keep that central, because grief is different for kids. Their brains are not yet fully developed, so they don’t even have the tools to process grief the way adults do. It’s so hard! 

We were determined to make Billy’s Place a place where people could find hope 💜.

The original Billy’s Place butterfly logo.

That’s what I found in my grief journey. I would see parents who had lost a child but were able to laugh a year or two into it. That gave me so much hope. So I knew the power of creating a community of people who “get it” and make you feel safe to cry or laugh.   

When did you realize Billy’s Place was going to be bigger than you ever expected?

When Melody came on, that was a game-changer for us.

Until then, Kris and I were doing most of the work on our own. I bought a minivan so we could lug materials from my garage to our little rental office. I would take three runs over in the morning to set it up, then we’d take it down at night. It was ok when we were hosting one group per month. But when it became 2, then 3, then 4 groups per month, it was hard to sustain. We were tired, but we had trouble finding people with the drive and passion to help keep up with our growth.

Melody Logan, with dedicated Billy’s Place volunteers at the butterfly release event in 2018.

Then we found Melody! She really helped drive programs forward and she’s so amazing with volunteers. She can really hear people 😊. 

It was Kris, Melody, and I, then Kim came in and really completed the circle. She’s incredible. She has taken her experience of losing her daughter Mayzie to pour her heart into what we’re doing for families. She brought operations and processes to where they needed to be to sustain our growth. And she helps so many people. 

Our staff, volunteers, and supporters over the years have powered our growth and brought us to where we are today. Hannah, Courtney, Shelby, Kaylene, Ruquiayah, Netty, Dee, Karina, Shannon, Dyllan, Grace – we wouldn’t be here without them.

Juli, Kim, Kris, Melody, Kaylene, and Ruquiayah at the National Alliance for Children’s Grief annual symposium in 2022

What role has Billy’s Place played in your own personal journey? 

My belief is that we are all put here to help other people. 

I needed to know that in having gone through the loss of Mike and helping my son through his grief, I could support others who were going through that. I knew what I needed at that time. I wanted to know that it is going to be OK. That I will smile again. That I will be able to feel again. I felt that when I went to groups and would see people laughing, and I can see families getting that from Billy’s Place, too. 

It really helps to find some meaning in the midst of a tragedy. 

Is there anything you’d like to say to Billy’s Place families?

I feel so honored that so many families have felt safe enough to share their heartbreak and the darkest moments of their lives with us. That trust means so much.

I’m often the first person families meet at Billy’s Place. They are thankful to be able to speak about their special person and to have a listening ear. I always say, thank you for trusting me with your story, because I know how hard that is. 

A lot of times we hug. We didn’t even know each other an hour ago, but we’ve already shared so much. You feel so bonded.

So the most important thing I would say to Billy’s Place families is Thank You. Thank you for trusting us, and thank you for being there for each other.

Billy’s Place Families, 2018

What would you love to see happen in the next 10 years? 

The biggest thing I would love to see is for us to have a place that is our own 🏠. 

Whether it’s a house, or however it works out, just our own place that’s big enough for us to do all of the cool things we want to do. We’re doing everything we can right now, perfecting everything we have. But there is only so much we can do in our space. 

Having that place where families can come and just feel like it’s their home, too – that’s my biggest hope for our next stage.

YOU can make this vision a reality! 

We never could have become the Billy’s Place you know if it weren’t for the amazing individuals, companies, and communities who have supported us over the years. 

Thank you 💜! 

YOU can help more families find their safe community in Billy’s Place over the next 10 years (and more!) by making a donation today. 

Donate today.