When Gloria Horsley was working as a clinical nurse specialist in psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, she would frequently counsel people whose family members had died. “My expertise was a lot in grief and loss because I was in the surgical service,” she recalls. One day, Horsley was helping a family whose two sons had been in a car accident; one was in the hospital but the other had died. “I have no idea what you’re going through,” she recalls telling them, “but I think I have some information that can help you.”
Not long after that, Horsley experienced her own terrible loss when her 17-year old son and his cousin died in a car accident. “Until you’ve had a traumatic family loss, you don’t have any idea what it’s like,” Horsley says. “It’s not only emotional, it’s physical. You’re hitting a wall going 100 miles an hour and there are a lot of repercussions.”
After that life-altering event, Horsley maintained a marriage and family therapy practice for several years. Then, 20 years ago, she decided to close the practice and devote herself to volunteering for The Compassionate Friends, a non-profit that helps parents who are grieving the loss of a child. Ultimately, she created a radio show that ran on the organization’s website and had planned on limiting the project to eight shows. “After six weeks, I got an email from someone who said, ‘I noticed that you only have two more weeks of doing your show. Please don’t stop; you’re my lifeline,’” recalls Horsley. “So fourteen years later, I’m still doing it and we actually have a million people downloading our podcasts now.”
When Horsley began getting requests from listeners for shows on other types of grief, she decided to launch her own website and that ultimately led her to start her own not-for-profit, Open to Hope, a resource and community for people who are grieving. The site has more than 400 contributors with their own pages where they can share their stories, publicize their books, be featured in podcasts, and connect with one another. Horsley also produces her own television show, which runs on public access television in Palo Alto and Manhattan. Her daughter, Heidi, is her co-host and the executive director of Open to Hope. Two other daughters, Heather and Rebecca, serve as community manager and director of community outreach, respectively.
While Open to Hope is partially funded through donations, Horsley says that she runs the organization largely with money earned from her late husband’s venture capital business. She’s in the enviable position of not having to worry much about competition. “One of the beauties of our narrow niche is that it’s not monetizable so people don’t eat our lunch,” she says. And she’s not burdened by having to worry about user engagement. “If you’ve had a loss, you want to come to us and hopefully, if we’ve been successful, you move off the site,” Horsley says. “So we don’t even worry about collecting email addresses.”
During the pandemic, Horsley felt restless and came up with the idea of sponsoring an online conference on healing after loss. “We had all these great speakers and everyone came for free,” she says. “We ended up having 4,000 people and we did six hours back to back.” Some of that content was used on Open to Hope’s YouTube channel, which contains more than 100 videos.
For Horsley, membership in Forbes Nonprofit Council is an important way for her to increase visibility for Open to Hope. “I love the brand and being able to link to it is a wonderful thing,” she says. “The credibility is pretty amazing.” She’s a long-time member of the community and contributes regularly to Expert Panels as well as writing long-form articles. “Having the opportunity to write, reading other people’s articles and getting ideas from them — it’s just a great thing,” she says.
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Interview with Dr. Gloria Horsley, founder and President of Open to Hope, former member of the TCF board of directors, and internationally known grief expert, psychotherapist, and bereaved parent.
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