FACETIME- Kate's voice: Mom's death launched a mission

Kate Atwood

When Kate Atwood got called to the office over the intercom at Buford Middle School in 1991, she knew it wasn't good. She was 12 years old, and within hours her mother would be dead of breast cancer.

She knew two other people whose mothers had died: Snow White and Cinderella.

"Great... 12 years old, looking for answers on how to navigate a reality I never could have imagined, and the only people I had to look to for support and understanding were two fairy tale princesses," she writes in the introduction to her book, A Healing Place: Help Your Child Find Hope and Happiness after the Loss of a Loved One... 

And that, she says, is why she wrote the book, published this month by an imprint of the Penguin Group.

The sad picture of a motherless girl doesn't necessarily jibe with the bubbly voice on the phone in a recent interview from her home in Atlanta.

"I remember being 12 or 13 and saying, this will not define me," says Atwood, now 31. And yet, she's devoted her life to helping grieving children.

The epiphany came the year before she graduated from the University of Virginia. She was working at a bereavement camp called Comfort Zone in Richmond.

"I had an exchange with a young girl," remembers Atwood. "We exchanged stories, and it gave me a sense of peace."

By age 24, she knew what she wanted to do. Over dinner with her father, architect Bill Atwood, whom she describes as "entrepreneurial," she laid out her dream, and he encouraged her to go for it. "Having your father believe in you sometimes is all you need," she says.

And Kate's Club was born. In six years, it has become a well-established Atlanta nonprofit– with an executive director, licensed clinical professionals, and national acclaim.

Still, it's a group, she freely acknowledges, that nobody wants to join. But anyone who's lost a parent or sibling can. The club provides support, social programs, and life skill activities, such as cooking and yoga. "It's coping– not with loss but with moving to a new life," Atwood explains.

Charlottesville writer John Kelly was so impressed that after penning an article about Atwood for Albemarle magazine, he partnered with her on writing the new book.

"I became more impressed with her personal story," says Kelly, "and how she took the worst thing that had happened to her and turned it into an opportunity to help."

Atwood just hopes the book will empower people outside Atlanta to start their own versions of Kate's Club. "The biggest gift you can give yourself," she advises, "is being part of something bigger than yourself." 

Kate Atwood and John Kelly will be at Barnes & Noble Saturday, November 21, from 2 to 4pm.