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A Place For Comfort, Remembrance And Help During Times Of Sorrow
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Karen Russell’s life work has been as a leader and community organizer, tirelessly using her talents to give the elderly, the sick, and the grieving the love, compassion, and services that they deserve.

Russell’s parents, who were both social workers, planted the seed of service in her life. Her family’s example taught her that one person could make a difference in the world. Her first volunteer experience at a nursing home in Columbus, Ohio, came at age 12, as Russell found herself forgoing the usual delights of summer vacation for a more profound satisfaction.
Karen's office at National Grief Support Services.
 
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Karen's office 
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Earning her Master's degree from Ohio State University and marrying her childhood sweetheart, Michael Press, were two reasons to celebrate.
Russell’s numerous hours of volunteer service undoubtedly lightened the lives of many elders. However, the blank faces of the residents, lined up in front of televisions and granted little more activity than repetitious games of Bingo, haunted Russell long after she left the home for the aged. She continued her path of service in college and graduate school, earning a bachelor's and master's degree in social work, gerontology and therapeutic recreation from Kent State University and Ohio State University.
Graduation from OSU
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And as she did so, she became even more determined to change conditions for seniors. Outside the classroom, for an undergraduate internship, Russell single-handedly crafted a full-scale city recreation program for older adults.

One of Russell’s many career achievements was the “Time of Your Life Expo,” which perfectly aggregated her organizational skills with her passion to serve seniors. Russell brought hundreds of exhibitors, teachers, celebrities, and speakers to Los Angeles to offer their products, services, programs, and inspiration to older adults under one roof.
Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley awarding Karen a proclamation for Time of Your Life Expo, and her work on behalf of older adults.
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Honors from Mayor Tom Bradley
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The exposition was an unprecedented success, serving 50,000 seniors each year. It became an annual program of Opportunities and Services for Seniors, a nonprofit, charitable information and referral organization that Russell founded and directed. Russell won a prestigious SAGE Award for “Best Marketing to Older Adults” for her efforts, and the expo served as a model for programs as far away as Japan.
During her years working with Alzheimer's, Karen met with former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who had been stricken with the disease himself for several years at the time of the photo.
Russell continued melding her love of service with her knack for rallying communities together – from directing social service and community programs for Alzheimer’s patients, families, children and seniors, to founding the nonprofit, Activity Source for Seniors, which educated and assisted activity professionals serving the elderly. She went on to found the Alzheimer’s Task Force of California’s San Gabriel Valley, which united healthcare professionals, care-giving facilities, social workers, and organizations.
Former President Ronald Reagan
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Behind the bustling activity of her public life, however,  Russell  was  grieving for the man who had been her childhood sweetheart and first husband. His sudden, senseless death, caused  by a drunk driver, left
her determined to turn profound pain into something meaningful and positive. Russell saw no better way to honor his memory than to help others who were suffering from loss in their lives. It was at this time that she began what would become National Grief Support Services.

Over the years, pieces of the puzzle came together. Russell began advanced marketing experience to help others develop successful online presences. She quickly discovered the Web would be the perfect vehicle to fulfill her own dream of building a worldwide grief-support network.

Still, Russell’s major challenge was raising sufficient funds to deliver grief services. When her uncle lost his battle with cancer, Russell used the money that he left her as the organization’s initial funding. She knew that her uncle would have been proud to know that she was using his gift to help others who were experiencing grief in their lives.
 
  To read full Caption  Karen's late uncle and former husband
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Since 1994, Russell has put years of research and a lifetime of experience into National Grief Support Services, at www.GriefSupportServices.org. The Web site offers both peer support and professional services to those who are suffering from grief brought on by a variety of life situations. Those who are faced with the loss of loved ones, life-threatening or dementing illnesses, divorce or relationship problems, military service related grief, depression, the death of treasured pets, alcoholism or substance abuse, suicide, and domestic violence are just some of the individuals who can benefit from the site’s extensive resources.

“My belief is that when people are grieving they need to concentrate on caring for themselves and others,” says Russell. “National Grief Support Services offers them the support and resources they need to heal and move forward, so they don’t have to spend countless hours searching for answers.”
Beyond providing comprehensive information, free counseling services, grief publications and memorials, the site features many innovative offerings that grew directly from Russell’s personal and professional experiences.

Legacy of the Heart,” for example, is an arena where people can craft motivational messages and remembrances to comfort the loved ones whom they will someday leave behind. When creating this service, Russell drew from the example of her first husband, who would hide notes and poems around the house that she would later discover and treasure.
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The unread letter to Karen from Michael that she found following his death.
Months after his death, Russell found one such note, which filled her with an indescribable sense of peace, comfort, and connection. She realized the power and importance of taking time to communicate our love, thoughts, values, experiences, and dreams to the most important people in our lives. Russell hopes that the site will inspire others to create their own Legacy of the Heart, as a “love insurance policy” to benefit those whom they care about.
 
 
 
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Letter that inspired Legacy of the Heart
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Another service that blossomed from Russell’s experiences is the site’s “Forget Me Not Program,” a multimedia, interactive tool that friends and families can use to present their memory-impaired with familiar pictures, music, and audio messages that give them back a part of themselves. This valuable instrument of comfort and reassurance grew both from the professional knowledge that Russell gained by working with Alzheimer’s sufferers and from her personal experiences with her grandmother’s and father’s memory impairment.
Throughout her career, Russell has touched thousands of lives, giving strength to the aged, the ill, the overlooked, and the grieving. In her own life, Russell finds personal strength in her family. She hopes that just as her parents planted that initial seed of service in her own life, so will her example be a living legacy of love to her two sons.
Karen with husband, Barry and sons David and Kyle
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Karen's husband and sons
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