Jo Ann Buckler-Dollins experienced crisis, trauma and grief over the past several years. In 1990, she watched her husband suffer and die of an undiagnosed illness. Three years later, she nearly died from a toxic infection, and then her only daughter was seriously injured in an automobile accident.
Through the healing power of God and with the help of Christian therapy, she traveled the road to recovery, gathering and applying knowledge of her recovery process as she traveled. She began to draw on her experiences and the knowledge she gained to help friends and associates who were recovering from a wide variety of losses.
In 1993, Buckler-Dollins sensed God calling her to a ministry of nurturing and educating others who have experienced loss. As a growing, serving Christian since her spiritual birth in 1980, she responded obediently to God’s call. In January 1994, she founded GROWTH Ministry – “Grief Recovery through Ongoing Work Toward Healing.”
Bucker-Dollins said, “GROWTH is unique and unlike any other grief recovery ministry in the San Diego Christian community because it ministers to people experiencing many different forms of grief.” She indicated that while most people associate grief with losing a loved one through death, those feelings can also be triggered by other losses and troubles such as divorce, leaving home, moving, loss of childhood, dealing with addictions, physical and mental abuse, retirement, loss of a job or even loss of a pet.
The ministry helps grieving adults find hope and healing through support groups and education of the recovery process. The Christ-centered support group offers a place of refuge for grieving adults to come together and share their feelings. They meet every Wednesday evening at San Diego First Assembly. “We believe in continuous support,” Buckler-Dollins said. “We recommend adults with short-term issues attend support group meetings for at least a year, longer for long-term issues.
Once a year, the ministry provides a time of instruction through a series of Grief Recovery Workshops. This year they will be held on the first four Wednesday evenings in October at San Diego First Assembly. The topics presented by Buckler-Dollins will be: the Biblical perspective of grief, types of grief, the process, and applying the principles of recovery. Special guest speakers will include Dr. Keith Olson and his associates from Family Consultation Service. The workshops are designed to educate and equip those experiencing grief; pastors, counselors, educators, and anyone who desires to help others going through the process. Pre-registration is required, and the cost of $15 includes course materials.
As the ministry’s founder and executive director, Buckler-Dollins establishes support groups, trains ministry leaders, organizes educational workshops, speaks, and provides resources and networking for the Christian community. She specializes in helping people get through anniversary dates that trigger feelings of loss. She has remarried, and her husband, Michael Dollins, serves as the ministry’s administrative manager. He packages the curriculum and materials.
Buckler-Dollins has replicated her leadership skills by training an associate director, Nanci Root, and a group of team leaders. She prepared them for ministry through a one-year training and apprenticeship program. Root currently facilitates the adult support group along with three team leaders who are the strength and the support system of the ministry so that Buckler-Dollins can focus on the ministry’s educational and training programs.
For the past four years, GROWTH has helped hundreds of hurting adults on their road to recovery. Now the ministry is beginning its second phase, “Grief Recovery Support for Youth.” Buckler-Dollins envisions “a blend of families and youth coming together in a unit for the recovery process.” Dr. Keith Olson and his associates from Family Consultation Service are working with GROWTH to establish this phase of the ministry.
Buckler-Dollins writes, “Youth grieve differently. A combination of adolescence, trauma and crisis is very difficult for youth and adults to understand. GROWTH wants to aid youth and parents in understanding what it means to process through grief and recovery, to emerge stronger through their experiences to a more healthy and productive life. GROWTH will minister, educate and nurture their needs through support systems provided through ongoing weekly meetings and workshops designed for youth and adults.” These support systems are expected to be launched in the latter part of next year.
Buckler-Dollins has already begun training five adults who will work with adolescent and pre-adolescent grievers, but she is still looking for mature Christians who feel the Lord calling them to this ministry. To those who hesitate, she says, “When you feel called by God to a specific ministry, move forward in that call. God will show you where He wants you to be.” She paraphrases her favorite ministry verse, Deuteronomy 9:1-3, “God promised to go before them and make their path easy.”
The one-year training program for both youth and adult leadership begins this month. Buckler-Dollins will teach a series of Ministry Skills Classes on the keys to effective leadership, dealing with emotions, keys to understanding what it means to process, and healthy and unhealthy group practice. This training is designed to prepare Christians to lead grief recovery support systems at either San Diego First Assembly or in their own churches.
Although GROWTH is a lay ministry, many therapists, counselors, pastors, ministers and educators have benefited from Buckler-Dollin’s enlightenment on the process. “My desire is to teach non-grievers and grievers the total concept of what it means to process so they may emerge stronger through their experiences,” she said. The State of California Board of Behavioral Science has recently certified her as a provider and instructor to teach continuing education on the grief recovery process to counselors (MFCC and LCSW).
GROWTH is based at San Diego First Assembly, located at 8404 Phyllis Place, but the support group meetings and recovery workshops held there are open to the community. For more information on the ministry, contact Jo Ann Buckler-Dollins, P. O. Box 191207, San Diego, CA 92159; telephone (619) 697-0204.